Scammers

Published October 20, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Totally off-topic post here, but I’ve gotten three of these calls today (Monday) and I have to vent about it.

The day already started weird, in the telephone sense, because I was dragged out of bed at 7 AM by the phone ringing.  (And I can’t reach the phone from under the covers.  In fact, because it’s on a highish shelf, I have to balance precariously on my knees on the edge of the bed and reach up for it, and hope I don’t fall, which isn’t a certain thing when I’ve only just woken up.)  Of course, I didn’t have my glasses on, and my stupid clock can’t really be read without them unless I squint at it for at least 30 seconds from pretty close up, so I didn’t know exactly what time it was, just that it was already basically light out.  The conversation went like this:

Me: (bleary) Hello?
Him: (unfamiliar voice) Hi.  What are you doing?
Me:  (still fairly bleary) Who is this?
Him:  This is Frankie.
Me:  I don’t know anyone named Frankie.
Him:  Really.
Me:  I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number.
Him:  Sorry… (seems like he’s going to continue)
Me:  Okay, bye.
(I hang up.)

Somewhere in there was also some fairly fake sounding laughter.  Just a “hah” or two.  I’m not sure where; I was pretty tired.  I think it was about when I asked who he was.  But the really annoying part was the way he said “Really.”  It was absolutely not a question.  It was the way you’d say it to someone who just reported that their trip to the ocean included being dragged down to Atlantis by a shark.  The “you don’t think I’d fall for that tall tale” kind of tone.  Honestly, his reactions were so unnatural that if it hadn’t been such an innocent conversation, I’d think he was one of those voice-recognizing robo-calls.  As it is, I’m not sure if it was a genuine wrong number, or some weirdo playing a prank…though I guess “genuine wrong number” seems most likely.

Anyway, so that was weird, but not actually alarming.  (I’ve gotten plenty of wrong numbers here over the years, though most of them have been the same woman trying to reach one of her friends, or people looking for a sporting goods store.  (Seriously.  I had a kid call up once and ask if there was a charge for trying on the equipment first.  After being stunned for a moment, I informed him that he’d called a private residence, of course.  But that was really weird, to ask a detailed question when the person on the other end only said “Hello,” not the usual “Thank you for calling Whatever-store-you-called,” spiel.)

In any event, because I’ve been sleeping more since I finally stopped drinking caffeinated beverages (we’ll see how long it lasts this time), I went back to bed for another 30-45 minutes, then got up and proceeded with my day as usual.  (Which in this case meant finishing up the biography of San Martin before tackling some Plutarch for tomorrow’s class.)

Mid-morning, I get a robo-call that just plays a message, and doesn’t expect you to interact with it in any way.  It claims to have been trying to reach me, and says that it’s from “the IRS.  Internal Revenue Service.”  It claims it’s my final notice before the IRS begins “filing lawsuit” against me.  Then it gives me a number to call.  Not a 1-800 number, but a simple long-distance one.

My heart was pounding, of course, but realistically, I knew it was a scam.  The quality of the recording was high, but I knew that this wasn’t the way the government handles things.  They’d send letters — a lot of letters — and if they did feel the need to resort to phone calls, they wouldn’t be robo-calls; there’d be a person on the other end, and that person would know who I was, and why they were upset with me.  And if they did use a recording for some reason, it certainly wouldn’t have the grammatical error of “filing lawsuit” instead of “filing a lawsuit” or — more realistically — “pressing charges.”  There’s also the fact that as an unemployed student, I don’t have enough income to owe taxes (at least, not to the federal government; the state usually gets some money from me) and even if I had made a mistake in TurboTax and actually had owed money this year, the IRS would never waste its time — and its money! — on legal action against me for what would have to be a very tiny amount.  (They would just hound me with letters asking for me to pay whatever I owed.  And probably stick a lot of late fees and interest on it.)  Not when there are billionaires out there claiming deductions for things that aren’t legit, not to mention companies doing illicit things and hiding their money in tax shelters, and all that.  (Seriously, most of those billionaires and corporations probably stiff the government for more money each year than I receive in a year, or possibly several years.)

One of the reasons I knew it was a scam is that this wasn’t my first time getting such a robo-call.  Over this summer, I got a different robo-call claiming to be the IRS, about to file charges against me for an unspecified reason.  That time, the recording was much worse, accompanied by hissing and static.  I knew, realistically, that if the IRS was going to use a recording to call me, it would use better equipment to make the recording.  But my panic overrode my good sense, and I looked up the number for the local IRS office (rather than call the long-distance number the call provided), and when I called that and explained to the man on the other end about the phone call, he said, in a tired tone of voice, “You’re the sixth today.”  Very embarrassing, and I did of course apologize for taking up his time and all that, but…I was so relieved to hear that it was definitely, well and truly a scam, and that I wasn’t the only one left in doubt by it, regardless of how obvious it was about being a scam.

So I had that experience under my belt, which is why I was only a little panicky over the one this morning.

Then, later that morning — or maybe it was early afternoon — I had one of those voice-recognition robo-calls pester me, trying to sell me medical insurance, or help me find insurance, or something.  I’m not sure exactly what its deal was, because I hung up on it pretty quickly.  (Theoretically, it might have been legit, but I already have insurance, so it doesn’t matter even if it was.)

But then, about 2 o’clock, the fake-IRS robo-call called back.

That changed the game.  I was feeling much more panicky.  Even though the call was still just as obviously fake — and getting two “final notices” makes them rather less “final” — the fact that I’d gotten two in one day made it seem more real, or maybe it just made me more panicked.  (The fact that I’m badly stressed out in about five different directions didn’t help.)

So I poked around online, and found enough reports of similar calls that I reassured myself that it was fake.

About an hour later, I finally got a real call, from my brother.  It was nothing important — something about how they’d increased the difficulty on the American versions of Castlevania III and IV, I think — but it was just such a relief to have a genuine phone call come in after the day I’d had.  It may have actually been less than an hour later, now that I think about it, because I was still looking around online for information about that robo-call.

Anyway, after talking to real person at last, I felt a little more relaxed (though I didn’t tell him about the robo-call) and was able to get back to my reading and finish the biography.

Then it called back.

At 5:45, when the IRS would be closed.  Except the call-back number it gave had changed to one in California, as if that would allay my suspicions.

Not that I was calm enough for that.

This time, though, my computer was on when they called.  (I was checking my bank account (not because I thought they’d done anything to it, but just because I was wondering how much money I had, to see if I could make some purchases) and looking to see if my crazy teacher had given us another last minute assignment.)  So this time I was able to take notes, and I jotted down the return call number, which I hadn’t done before.  (It kept calling when I had nothing to write on!)

The first thing I did was to try to look up that call-back number.  (Oh, I should point out that I don’t have caller ID on my landline, ’cause it costs money, and I’m cheap.  So I couldn’t look up the number it came from.)  That’s how I know it came from California, and that it apparently doesn’t belong to anyone.

I ran a search for “IRS phone scam” and one of the hits was this blog entry, which included a recording of the very robo-call I had received!

Now that was a relief!

Finally, I could assure myself — without bothering the poor man at the local IRS office again — that it was truly a scam.

But really, three times in a single day!

My nerves are totally shot.  Because no matter how much I knew, realistically, that it was fake, hearing it sent a jolt of fear through me each time.  Despite that I don’t make any money and always file my tax forms correctly and on time.  Despite that I would have noticed if the IRS had been sending me letters informing me that I had filed incorrectly and owed money.

Because there’s just something about the experience that operates on a primal level.  No, not primal.  Visceral.  It just strikes to the core, somehow.  I guess it comes down to society, and one’s relationship to it.

Obviously, I never got to that Plutarch reading.  (But I’ve been assured by a student who’s had that professor before that there’s not really any need to do the assigned reading unless you want to or think it will be useful for your final paper, so I figure it’s okay that I haven’t read it.  I’ll read it eventually, because it should be interesting.  But probably not until after the semester’s over…which is a pretty weird statement, now that I think about it.)

I’m going to try to relax for the rest of the evening, and then just resume my studies tomorrow.  One evening off shouldn’t kill my semester.  (And if it does, then maybe that’s proof that I’m not cut out for this.)

But what bothers me is the fact that these calls are still going around.  When I was looking around online, I found reports of similar scams going back at least to 2007.  (Though those early ones were all calls made by live people, not machines.)  The fact that people are still pulling this crap means that they’re finding people who fall for it, or at least fall for it enough to give the scammers the money or information that they want.  (Presumably what they want is money, but it could, theoretically, be an identity theft thing, looking for Social Security numbers.)

What’s truly alarming is the sheer terror I felt at the idea that I was being called by the IRS, that I might be in serious trouble.  Despite all the warning signs, despite my inner rationalist knowing that it had to be a scam, my heart was still pounding in fright at the idea that I could have money demanded of me that I didn’t have, or that I might be sent to jail.

I’m someone who was able to see that it was a scam, and I was still frightened by it.

So what do those calls do to someone who can’t see that it’s a scam?

That, I suppose, is the most frightening part of this.  The knowledge that some people don’t see that it’s a scam, and fall blindly into the trap.  I wish there was something I could do to help protect those people, but I’ve already done the only thing I could do:  I went to the appropriate government web site and reported the call.  (The link was on the same blog post that had the recording of the call.  At least, I think that’s where the link was…)

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