When I heard the man with an Indian accent call my Brooklyn home from an 877 number claiming to be from the IRS, something just didn't feel right. I owed taxes but was sure my accountant had filed an extension.
Since when does the IRS call people at home? I hadn't received a letter. But his entitled, pushy manner rattled me.
"What's your name?" I asked, a tremor in my voice. He said a Western name.
"What's your direct phone number?" I asked. "I'm on the other line at the moment, I'll call you back." He protested as I hung up -- and my heart threatened to crack a rib.
I called my accountant.
"It's a scam," he said. "The IRS doesn't call people's homes. The extension's been filed." With anger rushing through my veins, I dialed the 877 number.
The next day my wife called me from her office.
"Jeff, there's a guy on the phone from the IRS, and he's saying we owe them money and if we don't pay I'll be arrested when I leave the building," she said, on the verge of tears. "Can you use your credit card? He's on the other line."
"Put him on." I felt like Clint Eastwood with an iron chest plate under his poncho in "A Fistful Of Dollars."
"Yes, what do you want?" I said dismissively when the same man from the day before came on.
"Hello sir, this is the IRS. Are you aware that you and your wife may soon face arrest because of an outstanding tax debt?"
"Really? Where, may I ask, is your office? I'd like to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss this matter."
"You don't have time for that," he replied, less sure.
"I can leave right now and meet you or a representative. I live in New York."
"We don't meet debtors in person," he bluffed. "We work in collections."
"Listen," I said. "I know this is a scam. Stop wasting our time." I hung up.
A year after that call, I can joke about the episode -- but IRS officials warn that impostors are scouring the country for victims in the run-up to April 15. Since 2013, victims have paid $14 million in this scam, federal officials say.
Those three letters, IRS, strike fear in many of us. And that's what con artists count on. Don't fall for it.
Jeff Vasishta lives in Crown Heights.