It was an unwelcome telephone call for a Central Ohio business owner from a man identifying himself as an agent of the Internal Revenue Service.

“Ten percent of me thought it was a scam, but 90-percent of me took it serious,” says Derrick Clay.

He was driving when a call came in from Washington DC’s “202” area code.  Clay was told he is under investigation for income tax evasion because of mistakes in tax returns over a period of years. 

It sounded official. The “agent” provided a government ID number and had personal information about Clay, including his cell phone number and home address.  The caller also issued a grave warning.

“They’re going to put tax liens on your house they’re going to seize your bank accounts that the Sheriff is going to show up on your doorstep today  – he told me that on the first call, that the Sheriff is going to be at my house today to arrest me.”

Clay was suspicious and quickly called his accountant, who told him a number of people are reporting similar bogus calls and it’s simply not true.  The IRS does not make such threatening phone calls.  Clay then called Collen Marshall, and agreed to come to NBC4 so that we could record his return call to the Washington number.  Another “agent” answered, took Clay’s name and called up his “file.” It was clear that Clay’s personal information was in their database, and the man on the other end of the call even issued this warning: “I would like to make you aware of one thing, the line on which we are talking will be recorded and monitored by IRS headquarters.”

What followed was ten minutes of official sounding information gathering followed by an ultimatum.  Clay was told he had two options, to either pay $4730 immediately or go to the courthouse.  The “agent” said going to the courthouse would require hiring a criminal attorney and “then the courthouse will charge you approximately $50,000, and as well as you will be behind the bars for at least 90 days.”

Clay fears elderly people might fall for the official-sounding calls, and in fact, the IRS has issued this consumer alert:

IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scams

A sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be IRS employees, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Our call was cut short when Clay started asking tough questions and refused to give personal information, but he fears others will pay out of fear.  “I know that they are scamming people and I know that people are paying these fines – or these alleged fines – because they just don’t know any better.”