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IRS phone scam hits Highland Lakes; agency warns taxpayers

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

TOW VILLAGE — As Hilda Edeburn was thinking about her upcoming vacation, she decided to listen to a phone message. The person who left the message identified himself as an IRS employee and said he needed to discuss money Edeburn owed and it was imperative she contact him.

Well, after hearing the words “IRS” and “owe money,” Edeburn did the thing most people would do: She called the man back.

“He told me that the IRS had done a random audit, and they found that, between the years of 2007 and 2012, I still owed them $1,700 or so dollars,” she said. “He was very pressing and very scary. He told me if I didn’t take care of it today with him, he’d have the police come out to my house that day and arrest me.”

With threats of a pending arrest and vacation the next day, Edeburn admitted she considered giving into the man’s demand. But after spending 10 years as an IRS employee, including a year-long stint assisting with the fraud division, Edeburn stopped herself.

The phone call was part of a growing number of scams in which people claim to be with the IRS and tell victims they owe money and better pay up over the phone or face immediate arrest. On Aug. 28, the IRS even issued a consumer alert regarding the scams.

“These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen stated in a news release. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.”

Edeburn’s synopsis of the IRS process for working with taxpayers concurred with the commissioner’s. She explained the IRS works with taxpayers to resolve issues in one-on-one fashion over a period of time, not in one phone call. The caller claimed the “IRS” sent a letter outlining her tax delinquency and that she never responded.

But as an IRS retiree, Edeburn regularly gets IRS mail and opens and reads each piece. She wouldn’t have overlooked this alleged collection letter.

During one part of the conversation, Edeburn told the man she was having a hard time understanding him because of his heavy accent and requested to speak with another IRS staff member.

“He refused. He told me he was the one I would deal with,” she said. “I know for a fact the IRS doesn’t do this. If you ask to speak to another person, the IRS always lets you.”

Eventually, Edeburn had enough of the man’s demanding nature and lies.

“I said to the guy, ‘I’m not going to give you any of my money right now, so you do what you need to do,'” she said. “He said, ‘Well, I’m not going to waste any more time with you.'”

Though she didn’t fall for the scam, Edeburn worried that, as a former IRS employee, if she paused for a moment and considered giving in, what would other people without her background do.

“If I would think about (falling for) it, wouldn’t other people even be more likely to?” she asked. “He was very pushy and demanding. But it just didn’t feel right.”

The IRS stated when dealing with taxpayers, it will never:

  • call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice
  • demand you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe
  • require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card
  • ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • threaten to bring the local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying

People who have been called by someone claiming to be an IRS employee and asking for money can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.tigta.gov or by calling 1-800-366-4484. Go to IRS.gov to learn more.

daniel@thepicayune.com