Cautionary tale: How IRS scam cost Silt man $10K
Panic overcame John Dahl of Silt on Monday when he was told he had only two hours until he would be arrested if he didn’t pay the Internal Revenue Service $4,000.
Or so he thought.
Dahl was the victim of a scam in which he lost $10,000.
It all started with one voicemail:
“This issue at hand is extremely time sensitive. I am officer Nikki Johnson from the Internal Revenue Service and the number to my hotline is 323-744-6841. Don’t disregard this message and do return the call before we take any action against you. Goodbye and take care,” a robotic-sounding voice said.
Dahl said he called the number back, knowing he owes taxes in Arizona. Upon returning the call, he asked if this had anything to do with Arizona, and the scammers said it did.
“That’s what got me going,” Dahl said. “In my mind I’m going, ‘I better get this taken care of right away,’” he said.
He said the scammers, told him, “If you don’t pay the money for the mistake that was made on your taxes, then we will report to start foreclosure proceedings on your home and close your bank account.”
“They were really sophisticated,” Dahl said. “It sounded really official.”
Dahl didn’t know then that the IRS legally can’t call people, so he bought into the scam. The IRS must send a certified letter for initial contact.
For two hours, Dahl stayed on the phone with the scammers, a woman and two men with whom he talked through the whole process. They guided him step-by-step as he was instructed to buy $4,000 worth of Green Dot brand Visa cards, read the numbers off to them and mail them in.
“I couldn’t get the calls from the police department,” Dahl said, not knowing at the time that the scammers kept him on the phone for that reason.
He said the number was a 323 area code, from Los Angeles.
A clerk at the Kum and Go where Dahl bought the cards informed him it was a scam and she called the police. But Dahl was too caught up in the scam to realize anything else.
“I really wasn’t paying attention to her as far as a scam,” he said.
The scammers told him that he should have received two letters in the mail, which matched up with the letters he got from the real IRS about the Arizona issues. He said he was also fooled because the amount of money the scammers needed was about the same amount he owed in Arizona.
The scammers told Dahl to go to the IRS website, where he searched for a number. They then told him he didn’t send the $4,000 in time, so he would have to pay an additional $6,000 for the delay.
So back to the Kum and Go Dahl went, buying a grand total of 20 Visa cards worth $500 each.
“Finally at 5 p.m. I hung up from them,” Dahl said.
But before ending the call, Dahl said the scammers had one more thing to say.
“’Do not tell anybody, do not talk to anybody, do not tell anybody of what has happened,’” Dahl said the scammers told him.
“I started to get suspicious,” he said.
Jacque Riordon, a former IRS Criminal Division agent and analyst, said the way Dahl was victimized is among the latest scams.
Riordon said scammers call thousands of numbers, hoping to get a call back from someone.
“It’s kind of like the old days of the telemarketers,” she said.
The problem with paying scammers through pre-paid cards, as Dahl did, she said, is that the cards are hard to track. No name is associated with a pre-paid card.
“It’s next to impossible to get your money back,” said Riordon, who retired from the IRS and is a fraud examiner and consultant now.
She said the money given to the scammers is usually finite. Sometimes, that could be a good thing.
Sometimes scammers ask for credit card information, and once they have that, Riordon said, they can keep taking money.
The scammers called Dahl again Tuesday and said everything worked out with the IRS. However, they told him that he now had problems with Social Security. At this point, Dahl knew better and he gave them a false number to talk to his lawyer.
They never called back and they never called the false number, which was the number for a friend.
Riordon said her top advice is to know that the IRS will never call someone to collect money. She also said that no IRS officer will ask for payment information, so if someone does, this should be reported.
She said the only ways to pay the IRS are through a check or through its website, not via phone.
Dahl has filed two fraud complaints, one state and one federal.
“I don’t know how much I’m going to get back,” he said. “If it wouldn’t have been for my stuff in Arizona, I would’ve been suspicious right away.”
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