When some stranger left a threatening message on my voicemail saying I was in serious trouble with the I.R.S. and I needed to contact her right away to resolve the issue I didn't freak out. First of all I hire a reputable C.P.A to handle my taxe returns, and second of all this threatening voice mail had all the characteristics of a phone scam.
The caller repeatedly mentioned her name (probably fake) but never identified me by my name. If she had really been with the I.R.S she should have all kinds of identifying information on me, but the in the phone message she never mentioned my name. For all I know that message could be on some sort of recorded message sent out to countless people across the nation.
One dead giveaway of a phone scam is lack of documentation. I have not received any paperwork from the I.R.S regarding this so called "issue". The I.R.S has my current address so their is no reason for them to call me instead of sending me an official letter. The fact that I haven't received an official letter with my name, address or other identifying information confirms my suspicions that the call was a scam.
Another warning sign of a phone scam are high pressure tactics. The tone of the caller was threatening, implying in no uncertain terms that if I don't resolve this issue right away by paying them money there will be serious consequences. Of course what they don't mention is that these serious consequences involve them not getting rich if you don't buy into their scam. The con artist is hoping I will panic and react by paying them off instead of investigating to see if they are legitimate, or worse, writing an article on how to spot a phone scam.
To encourage you to contact them a con artist might leave a message with their phone number on your answering machine or voice mail. If you someone leaves a threatening message on your voicemail an easy way to verify if it's legitimate is to do a reverse phone number look up through the Yellow Pages at http://www.yellowpages.com/. If the caller is legitimate their number should appear under the organization or business they claim to be working for. If the phone number is hard to trace it's probably a scam.
Phone scams aren't limited to phony I.R.S. agents. At my workplace I once overheard a customer service person talking to someone claiming to be from the utility company. This took place at a large company where administrative tasks like billing and customer service tasks are handled by separate departments. So the fact that this person called customer service department instead of contacting the right department was a huge red flag. The customer service person handled the call well, asking the caller for the name of the person and company listed on the utility account and the company account number. She pointed out that customer service doesn't handle billing and she would need the name of the person on the account and their contact information in order to transfer the call to the right department. The phone scammer kept trying to threaten the customer service person with discontinuing service for nonpayment, but the customer service person kept responding by asking for the appropriate information. After the phone scammer finally gave up and hung up, the customer service person enjoyed a good laugh over this transparent attempt to rip off the company. The utilities were never turned off by the way.
So if you get someone on the line that you think is trying to scam you, just do what this customer service person did. Insist the caller provide you valid information, such as the account number and name of the person or company on the bill. Refuse to give out any personal or company information that the caller should already have in their records, including the customer name, address and banking information. If you are in a chatty mood you can always ask them questions a legitimate caller should know the answers to, like what is the address of their company, and when can you expect an official notice of nonpayment in the mail? Nothing gets a con artist off the phone faster that having a smart person ask smart questions.
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