BELLE CHASSE, LA (WVUE) - As people rush to meet the filing deadline for 2015 tax returns Monday, consumers in our area fall victim to one of the biggest IRS tax scams.
"I calculated after the fact, and it pains me to say this too - $11,885. That's the total amount they got from me," said Troy Barron of Plaquemines Parish.
Nearly $12,000 was gone, just like that. Barron said it all started with a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS.
"They said you are in trouble with the IRS. You owe back taxes. You owe a lot of money, and your choice is you either pay it right now or we have no choice but to send you to jail," he explained. Barron said the caller claimed he owed back taxes for mistakes dating back to tax years 2007 through 2015. "Unfortunately, my main concern was if I went to jail, I would lose my job," Barron said.
The first time they called, the caller said Barron owed $1,980, and they asked him to send it via MoneyGram. Barron was directed to a convenience store to use the money transfer service all while the caller remained on the line until the transfer was complete. But Barron wasn't getting off the hook that easy. The caller then demanded even more money, telling Barron they needed assurance that mistakes wouldn't happen again, still threatening him with arrest.
"The security deposit was $6,380," he said. On several occasions, Barron wired more money, each time around $2,000. By the time he found out he had been scammed, it was too late.
"The guy who investigates these things, he called me back and he said 'oh man.' One of the first things he said, 'the IRS does not call,'" Barron said. What's worse, Barron's not the only local victim. The Better Business Bureau says the IRS phone scam was the number one scam on their list last year.
"They're coming from out of the country because of such a thing that's called spoofing on the telephone. These people have a device that can make it look like your next door neighbor is calling you, and they're calling you from way overseas," Cynthia Albert of the BBB said. That element makes the criminals hard to track, and Albert said it's likely victims like Barron won't get their money back.
"First of all, what I asked him is what information has he given out besides the money, and what he told me he wasn't sure if he gave his social security number out so I gave him a number, the Social Security hotline, and I told him also (to call) the Federal Trade Commission - that's very important," Albert said.
Troy Barron can't erase what's happened. He just hopes others learn from his experience.
The IRS said this is an aggressive and sophisticated phone scam. The con artists can sound convincing, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers, and oftentimes, they know a lot about their targets. The IRS will never call you about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.