The would-be IRS agent identified herself as “Kelly Johnson,” ID no. IRM0156, and said there was a payment for back taxes pending from 2009 through 2013. A suit would be filed in federal court if not settled today, Monday, July 27. The amount claimed was several thousand dollars. Ms. “Johnson” said the particulars would not be available until after papers had been filed, but someone from “the high ministry” could help.
Thickening the plot: The Brookline Police Department has been warning for more than a year about telephone scams targeted at local residents. Since the U.S. IRS does not ask for quick payment over the phone, this sounded like one. The game would be to get some positive identification, if possible. Since we in the U.S. have agencies, offices, services and departments–not ministries–it sounded like a call from some parliamentary jurisdiction, although the potentially fake phone number had the Washington, DC, area code.
A would-be “Don Fort,” claiming to be the IRS deputy chief of criminal investigation, had an Indian accent, more likely to be a person named something like Suresh Patel than something like Don Fort. Clipped vowels suggested an urban origin, maybe Maharashtra. When asked how a caller might know that he really worked for the U.S. IRS, Mr. “Fort” suggested checking his name with Google. Although that checked out, he didn’t.
Mr. “Fort” seemed anxious for fast payment but said he could not accept a bank account or a credit card, as the U.S. IRS will do. Cash payment would have to be wired to an account, but he would not give the account number unless the cash were on hand and ready to wire. When asked, on an ordinary business day, for an IRS case identifier to check on the “claim,” Mr. “Fort” said he did not have one at hand. He was demurred with an excuse that we were responding from out-of-town and would have to call back.
Following up: The next call, of course, was to the Brookline Police Department, lodging a complaint about an apparent attempt at interstate telephone fraud. Checked out with Google, the phone number used by the would-be fraudsters turned out to be a well known scam-element:
“Contact Information–Jerk Call.
Stated to call IRS for lawsuit.
IRS does not call to warn about taking money.”
Officer Hunter at the Brookline Police front desk took down basic information and said someone else from the department would come by to check. About a half hour later, Patrol Officer Dana Inchierca rang the bell, and we spoke for a few minutes. He was not familiar with the signature of this particular scam but said similar activities had been occurring frequently.
Brookline Police lacked jurisdiction when no actual fraud or unwarranted disclosure of information occurred. Officer Inchierca said the FBI and the IRS might intervene. A call to the FBI Boston office got a referral to an IRS “hot line” number for telephone scams–impersonating an IRS agent–800-366-4484. That led, in turn, to a Web site for filing complaints. The site at http://www.tigta.gov offered a short form to list contact information and particulars. We filed a complaint. After five days, there had been no response.
Catching crooks: Without more timely actions, the federal government stands unlikely to catch crooks practicing this scam and similar ones. According to Officer Inchierca, would-be perpetrators might easily be at locations other than telephone numbers suggest and even in other countries. If warned of exposure, they would likely decamp.
As a result of Mr. Snowden’s recent disclosures, some federal officials are known to have real-time access to telephone traces. However, they will not catch many such crooks unless they are prepared to deploy tools promptly and unless they coordinate closely with local enforcement who can immediately visit premises, seize evidence and arrest suspects.
We have published our names, address and Brookline land-line telephone number for over 40 years, so anyone at all interested in reaching us could easily accomplish the task. While that is some amount of public exposure, we are not inclined to hide. If you are targeted by a potential scam, you might do as we did–which Officer Inchierca confirmed to be a useful approach.
Do not supply, verify or acknowledge any identifying information other than what you can be sure you already made public–including names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, bank, account or ID numbers, social security numbers, legal counsel, employment data, business data or identifications of relatives, friends or neighbors. Do not worry over asking blunt questions or over making challenging comments. If you are puzzled or scared, simply hang up. Start a complaint by calling the Brookline Police Department, 617-730-2222.
– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 1, 2015
IRS reiterates warning of pervasive telephone scams, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, April 14, 2014
Edward Snowden: leaks that exposed U.S. spy program, BBC (UK), January 17, 2014
Scam alerts, Brookline, MA, Police Department, December 20, 2013