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Anatomy of an "IRS" Phone Scam


One of today’s more common phone scams would seem to be from the Internal Revenue Service. WFSU’s Tom Flanigan received just such a call and followed up on it.

I came home from the station not long ago to find this on my old-school telephone answering machine, with the caller saying he was with the I-R-S.

“This is a notification for you in regards to an enforcement action that has been started under your name,” the recording stated. “I hope you will take this right and call me as soon as possible. This is Austin Hall with the Department of Legal Affairs looking forward to speak to you.”

“Agent Hall” helpfully left his phone number, which had a Seattle Washington area code. I called the number the next day from one of the radio station’s studios. When the line was answered, I announced, as required by Florida law, that the call was being recorded for possible broadcast. That fact didn’t seem to bother the person who answered the phone.

“My name is Officer Mark Johnson and my badge ID number is GS-727540,” he identified himself at the start of the conversation.

“Officer Johnson” informed me I owed a considerable amount of unpaid taxes between the years of 2009 and 2014.

“There is $5664.23 that has been coming on you as an outstanding amount of balance,” he informed me sternly.

He also said if I did not address this matter immediately – that very day – terrible things would happen to me.

“The local authorities with an arrest warrant will come to your place, your driver license will be cancelled and everything under your name," he warned. "Your property, your bank account, everything will be frozen and you are going to face federal imprisonment for up to 5 years.”

Not wanting to go to jail and have all my property seized, I told “Officer Johnson” there was no way I could pay the full amount right now and that I had only about a thousand dollars in my bank account. He said he could put a hold on the arrest warrant if I paid that now and set up a payment plan for the rest.

“Withdraw the money from your bank as in $1,000 cash,” he told me. “Once you have this cash you have to convert this money into a restitution electronic gift card. It will be a specific kind of electronic gift card, which you have to purchase from a nearby store. I will let you know the nearest government-certified store where you can go to get these electronic gift cards.”

To make sure I did that, “Officer Johnson” told me to continue my conversation with him on my cell phone so he could verify I actually purchased the gift card by supplying him with the card’s number and the personal identification number needed to unlock the transaction. After that, he’d tell me what to do next.

“You have to give that electronic card in an IRS building to an IRS officer. They will make the physical collection of the electronic card and then the payment is going to be accepted and at the same time you will get the documents and paperwork and the monthly installments of $100 a month.”

By now, the conversation had been going on for nearly a quarter of an hour and I figured it was time to fully identify myself as a radio reporter doing a story on scams like this. “Officer Johnson” promptly broke the connection. Please check out the second part of this story as we check with an actual IRS person and local law enforcement on how not to be a victim of these kinds of fraudulent phone scams.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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