The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

Phony IRS 'Mafia' on the prowl again



“Is this Mrs. [name withheld]?”


“Listen up, lady. I’m Agent Benson from the IRS. We see that you’re $5,000 in arrears to us, and you’re going to have to pay it, right now. Otherwise we’ll have to arrest you.”

“Excuse me? Did you say ‘arrest me’? But—”

“No ‘buts,’ lady. And listen, we have reason to believe you did this deliberately. It doesn’t look good for you. Admit it: you intended to defraud the government, right?”

“What?! No, I—”

“Don’t lie to me! Now you need to pay up.”

“But… I don’t have that kind of money right now…”

“We have to have at least $500 right now. That’ll keep us from having to arrest you.”

“But… how would I get it to you?”

“Go to your nearest Walmart and make a payment there.”

“Well… but there’s no Walmart around here…”

(Computer keys heard clicking in the background) “OK, I see you can make a payment at that Red Apple store in town. Get over there and make the payment, right now. We’ll be waiting.”

This is very close to word-for-word how a phone conversation went just days ago between a woman in Goldendale and a man claiming to be an IRS agent but actually spinning a belligerent con.

A phony IRS “Mafia” is again working the circuit around Klickitat County, the Goldendale area in particular. Several residents report menacing calls much like the one quoted above, and they say the tone of the callers is so threatening that it really does provoke fear before you get a chance to think it through.

Many people have no idea how the IRS works, and given the agency’s less than embracing image, victims can easily be sucked in. In the case of the call above, it wasn’t until the intimidated target actually called the IGA Market on Broadway—long ago no longer called Red Apple—and found out the store doesn’t even do electronic fund payments that reality began to dawn.

“I was ready to do it,” the near-victim says. (She prefers not to be identified.) “I was scared. It’s very scary to hear someone in a really mean voice tell you you’re going to go to jail if you don’t pay the government.” Their “don’t-make-us-come-over-there” tone can be very forceful.

Then the target did some checking and learned this is a common scam; it’s been around a long time, but it’s still a favored tool of people who get a kick out of scaring honest people out of their hard-earned money.

The callers use a toll-free number—around here it tends to be (888) 567-5509. The number is like poison ivy on the internet, creating rashes around the country. In fact, some entire communities have taken steps to try to block the number entirely, though they know it won’t necessarily prevent a resurrection of the problem.

Anyone receiving a call of this nature, even if they know it’s probably a scam—especially if they do know but have forgotten how it works—should do a search on “IRS phone scam” and troll through the innumerable pages on the matter. Here’s what the IRS says about it on its own web site:

“An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS, but are not. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.” Apparently the thieves exercise some perverted creativity and initiative.

“Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.” Or, as in recent cases, they start off that way.

“Victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an ‘urgent’ callback request.”

Then the IRS delivers its bottom line on procedure. “Note that the IRS will never: 1) call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill; 2) demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe; 3) require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card; 4) ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or 5) threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.”

You work hard for a living. Don’t let financial vampires suck you dry.


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