My parents are getting spam calls about me, how do I calm them down?
September 13, 2021 2:53 PM   Subscribe

My parents are getting distraught as a "lawyer" keeps calling them saying I'm in trouble and that I owe money to the IRS. The claim to not have answered but they keep calling me asking me to call the person back. I told them logically why would a lawyer from another state call them about my taxes? How do I get them to stop pestering me about it? It is now beginning to give me anxiety as I'm afraid my parents will give away my contact information and frankly it is leading to not pleasant conversations with them as they think I'm "up to something."

I guess I cannot control my parents being taken in by a scam or not. I told them that my taxes are not their problem, even if I did have tax issues. I'm a bit concerned that somehow a scamster got my name and then got ahold of my parents, but with data breaches you never know. I don't know how to explain to my parents that out of state lawyers do not call their parent's of 30 something year olds for tax issues. I've checked my credit and have everything on locked down.

No one is attempting to call me, and my mom keeps insisting that I just call to see if there's a problem. My parents are retired, so there's a lot of "nothing to do but worry" and talking about how no one else has these "issues with the IRS." I haven't worried about it until recently, the third time your mom calls you pleading with you just to take care of it gets kind of nerve wracking. I absolutely do not want to get on a list of people who respond to scams.
posted by geoff. to Human Relations (25 answers total)
Appeal to authority? "Yes, I had my lawyer call them back, and my lawyer says they're scammers and we need to shut them down, and the way you can help is..."
posted by straw at 2:58 PM on September 13, 2021 [68 favorites]

Would showing them this help?
"I haven't gotten any letters and the IRS hasn't contacted me directly. They say on their government website this is their protocol and that scams are common..."
posted by clarinet at 2:59 PM on September 13, 2021 [22 favorites]

You've looked into it, it's a common telephone scam, and you've reported the phone number to the IRS. Can they block the phone number? Internal Revenue says that would be best going forward.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2021 [13 favorites]

Have you pointed them to the IRS's own page on scams? Can you figure out some way for that number to be blocked on your parents' phone?

Maybe try: I understand why this worries you because you want to know that I am not in trouble. However it worries me because I am afraid that you are being taken in by a well known scam. I am not going to call back a scammer because then they will continue to call you. What can we do so that you are no longer being bothered by this?

posted by oneirodynia at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

[Separately, make sure this is not related to any tax debt turned over to a private collection agency -- such debt would not appear on your consumer credit report.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:08 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Tell them it's serious and you need to $10k ASAP. And when they give it to you tell them to stop falling for scams.

In all seriousness, all of the above suggestions pointing them to the IRS website.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 3:32 PM on September 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Do they watch the news? Show them a clip from an actual news channel reporting about these scams. There are some on youtube, and you could probably find something on the websites of whatever channels your parents watch.

Sometimes hearing this stuff from familiar authoritative sources, with emphatic newscaster intonation and scary music in the background, can carry more weight than a kid (in their eyes) telling them he's not in trouble.
posted by trig at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you don't want to escalate to your imaginary lawyer you can just say you called the IRS, which legitimately does have a very helpful customer service center, and confirmed this is a scam and nobody should talk to them. The scam is designed to get worried parents to give this "lawyer" their credit card information to "get their kid out of trouble" - that's the whole reason they're calling parents or grandparents and not the actual person.

You should probably also pre-explain the scam where someone calls from a "bad line", barely audible, says they're you, and needs money wired to them right now to either pay bail or buy an emergency plane ticket home from France or Argentina or wherever.

Blocking the number is probably pointless since they spoof a different number every time.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:37 PM on September 13, 2021 [15 favorites]

AARP has some resources on this. There's this fact sheet:

What I like to do whenever any scammer or regular telemarketer calls is start fomenting for them to protect themselves from coronavirus.

"I worry because it sounds like you may be in a giant room with many other people, all talking, and there is a globally distributed virus that spreads from person to person in the air, so you are quite vulnerable. Are you vaccinated? If you can, please get vaccinated. Either way, you should also be wearing a good mask. Even if you don't have access to the vaccine, you can still protect yourself. Look for N95 masks, KN95 masks, or KF94 masks. Basically, anything made of electrostatic material that fits tightly to your face. If you can't get an N95-type mask right away, a cloth mask or a surgical mask is still much better than nothing. Please be sure you wear your masks whenever you are with other people, especially indoors. Please encourage your co-workers to use masks. Please protect yourself and your loved ones!"

Riff and repeat until they hang up. A. they can't get to their yack about the IRS or microsoft or my kidnapped grandchild or whatever; B. you never know, they might get themselves some better masks and not get the coronavirus. It's possible.

AARP has this podcast, too:
posted by Don Pepino at 3:37 PM on September 13, 2021 [8 favorites]

Just tell your parents you called them and confirmed that they have the wrong Geoff Smith. You cleared it all up but the lawyer said it might take a little while for your name to drop off the follow up list with his admin team, but that they can disregard with no worries now.
posted by phunniemee at 3:43 PM on September 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Here's an example of an ABC report (from 2014) with an IRS spokesperson saying "It's bogus. If the IRS needs to contact you, the taxpayer, you're going to get a letter in the mail first."
posted by trig at 3:43 PM on September 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

The single-best advice for your parents would be for them to stop picking up phone calls from unidentified numbers, and start deleting all voicemails from people who say they're with the IRS.

I realize that your parents may or may not be lucid/sophisticated enough to embrace this advice, which indeed is exactly what the scammers are counting on.

I second the suggestion to find a relevant local news clip about a similar scam targeting similar-age people. Sometimes the 6 o'clock news is more accessible/memorable than a written notice from a government agency or consumer protection group.

Another option, only if you think it will resonate better: do you have a friend who's good at voice-acting? Have them place a test call to your folks from a phone number they won't recognize. Have the friend follow the usual phishing script; see if your parents bite. If they do, the friend pulls a 1990s-talk-show-style "reveal" -- kindly and gently, of course, and maybe handing the phone off to you. "See how easy it is to fake these things? It could happen to anyone. You have to be skeptical. It's OK to hurt their feelings and hang up on them."

Good luck with this whole thing. I know how nerve-wracking it must be.
posted by armeowda at 3:48 PM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a variation on the "grandpa" scam...
posted by kschang at 5:09 PM on September 13, 2021

I favorited the first 3 answers because they are all valid responses to this issue depending on the relationship you have with your parents. If you have a close relationship… If their financial health has the potential to affect your financial health… if you think they are generally competent people, you must educate yourself on this issue and then them! The danger in saying “I called them and it’s bullshit” or “my lawyer is handling it” is that when the scammers call again, your parents might get into a longer conversation with them where they try to set them straight. This is a bad idea and gives them an opening to fish for more info or find another angle. The scams are endless. Educating them about this is in your and their long term interest.
posted by amanda at 6:01 PM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Every time they call, get details, time, caller ID if possible. Then call the police and report the crime, making certain they have your parents' names and phone number. Each time, send them the same email with all the links here, explaining that they are victims of a well-known criminal scam. Any time they want to discuss it further, refer them to the police. Be boring and repetitive and avoid engaging as much as possible. I wouldn't be able to resist saying, 1 time, I'm getting angry and hurt that you believe I would be in trouble with the IRS and not deal with it. I'm not going to keep discussing this with you. It's a scam It's a crime. Report it to the police. Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, give these people any money. It's. A. Scam.
posted by theora55 at 6:13 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

It is now beginning to give me anxiety as I'm afraid my parents will give away my contact information and frankly it is leading to not pleasant conversations with them as they think I'm "up to something.

Your parents suspecting that you’re up to something is going to make it near impossible for you to convince them it’s a scammer. The scammer knows who your parents are and their contact info, which is information that scammers can easily get, and it’s highly doubtful they would want your contact info because it’s your parents panic that they want. They can try to convince your parents to wire them money to “clear this all up”. My MIL wired money after a scammer told her he was a lawyer for her grandson (they knew his name and where he lived), and that grandson was in jail for a public disturbance charge and he needed to post bail. He told her that grandson wasn’t allowed phone calls. In a panic she sent the requested $5000. Total BS. So why not tell your parents to give you this IRS lawyers contact information and call them in front of your parents. It’s likely bogus contact information and they can witness a lack of an authentic voicemail. I also don’t see the harm in having your parents give the scammer your email address. This scammer has zero interest in contacting you.

Your parents don’t trust you and I imagine that is awful. I don’t think you can convince them you deserve to be trusted and treated with respect, and you don’t deserve to be subjected to their awful behavior toward you. They sound frightfully naive.
posted by waving at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The danger in saying “I called them and it’s bullshit” or “my lawyer is handling it” is that when the scammers call again, your parents might get into a longer conversation with them where they try to set them straight.

This is exactly why I haven't lied about it and why I didn't want to put together a charade of "my lawyer took care of it," or anything like that. The scammers are pretty convincing and authoritative (they sent me a voicemail), I could easily see them spinning it as, "Great! Can you confirm geoff.'s last 4 social security digits?"

Really this is a fear that my information got stolen but there's only so much I can do with that, and of course powerless to really do anything to stop this guy/group from what I consider harassment. I'll tell them to report it to the police and maybe them doing something will empower them to feel like they're doing a good thing -- like fill out paperwork or something.

Not helpful that the scam is really suave, "Your son is really hard to get ahold of and we don't want him to delay payment..." and I inadvertently played right into it by being dismissive and telling them to not respond and ignore it.
posted by geoff. at 6:58 PM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Which is why I think telling your parents that you've looked into it, confirmed that it is a scam, and asking them to block the number serves a few purposes: you'll a) acknowledge their concern for you (especially if they feel your refusal to call that number has been a brush-off/hiding something from them), b) give them a simple action to execute, and c) highlight, if they should keep getting these calls, how this is a fraud -- they'd receive similarly-scripted voicemails from new phone numbers showing a variety of area codes.

geoff., I wouldn't instruct your folks to go to the police and tackle paperwork when they're already unnerved and may be having trouble with cognitive processing.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest printing off all these replies and showing them.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2021

Best answer: I went through this with my mother earlier this year and you have my sympathy, this is so very hard. (My only saving grace is that my mother is too anxious about/avoidant of anything to do with money to ever "wire" anything to anyone, lol.)

It is very difficult to convince that generation of just how incredibly fake, shitty, crooked, and dirty everything is now. They just didn't grow up steeped in it, I guess? It's less about them not trusting you as a person and more about them implicitly trusting "The IRS" as an omnipotent and implacable institution with life-ruining power. Plus probably some fear/shame around "people with tax problems."

Be aware that part of this may be that they're resisting admitting to themselves and to you that they were fully taken in by a scammer. This isn't encouragement to lie to them--you should absolutely continue to tell them it's a scam, as suggested above--but just know that they may NEVER admit to believing you. The best way to resolve this is whatever way allows them to save the most face. Maybe telling them "the IRS told me this is a particularly complex and "suave" scammer, they've had a lot of problems with them," something like that.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:51 PM on September 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

If you’re afraid your parents won’t trust what you have to say, heck, do a three way call with your parents and the IRS. They can literally be on the phone with you and hear the IRS tell you it’s a scam. It might waste 45 minutes of your life but it’ll make the problem go away.
posted by phoenixy at 1:34 AM on September 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Parents first mistake was answering the phone. Caller ID - and a knowledge of area codes - can avert many unpleasant calls. When "my grandson" called the conversation ended shorty after I asked which one he was. I already knew it was a scam because the voice and the area code were unfamiliar.
posted by Cranberry at 2:45 AM on September 14, 2021

If you are all up to date with your tax returns and payments you could also offer to show them that - if you’re comfortable doing that. If the IRS shows you as current that is difficult to argue with. Advantages are that they get to see you are not in trouble with the IRS and you don’t have to go into the scam discussion.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2021

have them sic lenny on the scammers
posted by brujita at 2:34 PM on September 14, 2021

Please let us know how they respond to the IRS info about scams linked above. That will help determine how to proceed next.
posted by mediareport at 3:51 AM on September 17, 2021

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