The caller to my cell phone said he was from the “United States I-R-S.”
“Internal Revenue Service?” I asked. A lot of acronyms these days. I wasn’t expecting a random call from the IRS on a late Tuesday afternoon in early December.
“Yes, the United States of America IRS,” he said. “This is a very serious issue, Mr. Makin.” (rhymed with bacon)
He spoke slowly, enunciating each syllable carefully. His accent hinted he was from another country. In a noisy room.
“Mackin,” I corrected him. “Sounds like packin’, hackin’, jackin’.”
He ignored my humor attempt.
That happens a lot.
“Mr. Mac-keeen,” he said slowly. “This is a very serious issue. … Do you know what it is about?”
“No sir,” I said.
I thought, “You called me,” but I didn’t say it aloud.
Immediately, I sensed it was a scam. First, I have no pending income tax issues. Second, I would assume if I had tax issues, the IRS would send me an official letter or notification. And a call would not come from a man who sounded like he was in a busy shopping mall or noisy call center.
He told me his name was either Mark Williams or Marek Williams. I couldn’t tell if there as an extra syllable in his first name or not. There was a lot of background chatter on his end of the phone.
It sounded like a lot of other solicitation-like calls I am getting these days. You know the calls. Advice on how to receive a credit card with a better rate. Or my car’s warranty has expired. Or replying to my request for additional health insurance coverage — a request that never happened. I’m not sure what’s scam or not.
The caller reminded me several times he was from the IRS. He told me his official “IRM number” was 19802. I read once that when people give you their ID information on the phone, it usually means they don’t have real ID numbers.
I noted his phone number was from a 509 area code which I later learned was in the state of Washington.
“Mr. Mac-keen,” he said. “You could be arrested immediately.”
Wow. I had flashbacks to high school and college shenanigans. How did they find out? Wait. That was 40 years ago. There are no photos or e-mails. Witnesses? You can’t believe my old friends. They’re jokesters.
He said the IRS had audited my tax returns. From the years 2011-16, I had underpaid on my federal taxes. Collectively, I owed the IRS a total of $6,980.86, he said. Another clue: If I had intentionally underpaid the IRS, likely it would have been for more than $6K, right?
He said our phone call was being recorded. As we spoke, he said, several other IRS agents were listening, too. I told him that I was the only person listening on my end of the phone and it’s not being recorded.
Isn’t everything today being recorded or videotaped, I thought to myself.
“This issue can only be handled by phone today,” he said.
Suddenly, I felt kind of cool, like a rebel or fugitive. A TV show character. If my sunglasses hadn’t been in my car, I might have put them on.
He warned me that his next step was a warrant for my arrest immediately.
“Is that what you want,” Mr. Ma-ck-een, he said.
“I don’t want to be arrested. And I won’t be home tomorrow,” I said.
“Mr. Mac-keen,” he said. “Do not be surprised if someone knocks on your door tomorrow with a warrant.”
“I won’t be home tomorrow,” I repeated.
I was confident it was a scam. So I asked my caller, or IRM Number 19802, if he’d like my credit card number. We could get this important IRS and criminal issue completed. I could pay my debts now. Whew. No jail time. Thanks for the heads up, Mark or Marek.
I was waiting for others from the IRS on the call to shout “Bingo” but heard nothing.
I hung up. I didn’t give him my credit card number. And I have not been arrested, yet. After hanging up, I called the local office of the Illinois Attorney General. The nice lady told me their office was aware of many phone scams involving the IRS. She thanked me for reporting it.
The lesson here is simple: Once I had a boss named Bob who told me, “If it sounds bogus, it’s usually bogus. Follow your gut. Lots of crooks out there, preying on good people.”
Good advice, in life and on the phone.