Explain this phone scam...
September 10, 2014 7:35 PM   Subscribe

My parents called in a panic about what sounds like a scammy voicemail message on their land line. Problem is I just can't figure out the angle.

A guy called claiming to be an officer in some investigations department of the IRS. He introduced himself by name, used my father's full name in the message, and said that there was a pending legal action or some such related to a report of tax fraud on his part that would be going to court. He left a Seattle AC phone number to call him back at to discuss the matter.

We have never heard of any such issue with the IRS, have received nothing from the IRS in writing, and my father hasn't committed any tax fraud, and really isn't even in a position to be suspected of such a thing. His returns are quite simple. Out of curiosity, I called the number expecting some sort of shake down, but the number was non-functioning. An internet search suggests that others have gotten this sort of phony call. But what's the angle, and why bother to leave a non-working call back or voice message?
posted by drpynchon to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
It's a common scam nationwide.
posted by blob at 7:41 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe the law was catching up to them so they had to shut down.
posted by alms at 7:42 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Go to 411.com and search the number there. If it were legit you could tell.

It won't be.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:54 PM on September 10, 2014

Response by poster: I know it's not legit. I'm more curious about the motivation/angle of the scam.
posted by drpynchon at 8:00 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

This scam is making the rounds. The IRS sends letters if they have an issue - not phone calls.
posted by leslies at 8:01 PM on September 10, 2014

Essentially social engineering to gain social security numbers which would then allow them to open credit lines, and have a grand ol' time. The Nigerian Princes will greatly appreciate the assistance.
posted by Draccy at 8:02 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: But what's the angle, and why bother to leave a non-working call back or voice message?

I can think of two options other than that the law has already caught up to them:

a) Hanlon's razor.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

b) It's prep work for a high pressure follow-up call, in which they berate the mark for not returning the initial call, and demand information RIGHT NOW.
posted by zamboni at 8:12 PM on September 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Green dot scams have been gaining popularity lately.
posted by griphus at 8:20 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

For an IRS-based scam, I'd think the main hook is to get the mark's Social Security Number for ID theft purposes.
posted by rhizome at 8:27 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It does seem odd that the number was nonfunctioning. I got an IRS scam call recently and when I called back the number was functioning and the goal seemed to be to scare me into wiring money or giving them a credit card number immediately by claiming that police were showing up in 20 minutes to arrest me. When it became clear I wasn't giving them anything the guy said "Enjoy jail, bitch" and hung up. Zamboni may be right about the prep work, because a major component of the scam in the call I got was a claim that the "Internal Revenue Services" had tried to contact me repeatedly by phone and email with no response. In addition, these guys do seem to use a lot of numbers (my contact was from a Maryland number) so they just may be cycling to keep ahead of authorities.
posted by Cocodrillo at 8:51 PM on September 10, 2014

The Green Dot thing is the phone scam my town is warning against too.

"An alert Morristown police officer saved a Dover man from being taken in by a phone scam, reports Lt. Stu Greer, who is advising residents to beware of callers posing as representatives of the IRS or utility companies.

These bogus callers tell people they have delinquent accounts that must be paid immediately using Green Dot Money-Paks"
posted by katinka-katinka at 9:15 PM on September 10, 2014

Anything that involves a) money or b) personal details, you tell the person on the other end of the line that they only way you will respond to them is if their communication is in writing.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:53 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got a similar call the other day, I believe they will eventually try to get you to wire them money to pay off the "debt."
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:33 AM on September 11, 2014

And they called me several times, spoofing the phone # on the last call to make it look like they were in my local area and scare me into giving them money. I didn't call the return # so I don't know if it was active or not. I assume they have to shut the call back number down after a little while when people start to report the calls.

You can file a complaint with the FTC if you want.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:35 AM on September 11, 2014

The IRS has this To say about it.
posted by susiswimmer at 9:06 AM on September 11, 2014

They're probably trying to get sensitive personal information. Another possibility is they'll call back, say "you owe [x] amount of money/we can fix this for you for [x] amount" and hope that your parents will pay it out of fear or a desire to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

I've heard of similar scam except they call you up, pose as a collection agency and say you owe some mysterious debt. And unfortunately a lot of people are scared enough of having their finances ruined that they pay up without checking into it further.
posted by Kimmalah at 9:41 AM on September 11, 2014

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