Jeff Jardine

Jardine: Wilson-n-n-n! Quit trying to steal Modesto man’s money

They call all too frequently, fraudulently claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service.

In threatening tones, they say you owe them for back taxes and demand access to your bank account right then and there. If you balk, they bellow, a marshal will be on your doorstep within 10 minutes to haul you away to the pokey.

Except that they don’t say pokey. Pokey is American slang, and these thieves are from foreign countries where they don’t call prisons or jails “pokeys.”

This scam obviously works often enough to keep it going. If it didn’t, they’d move on to the next one. Tuesday, though, one of these clowns met his match in Willie Alvernaz.

Alvernaz is a Modesto resident living on Social Security benefits so low that he doesn’t have to file tax returns. He’s had such calls before and knows they are a scam. He knows the IRS never will call to inform you of a tax problem or pending audit. It will do so with an official letter bearing legitimate contact information. And should you actually get one of those, your tax preparer or an accountant should be your first call. The IRS lists numbers and links on its web page where you can report such phishing through phone calls, emails or social media contacts.

Scammers don’t always do their homework, as an Oakdale resident found out when she received a call while volunteering at the Oakdale Museum. The nonprofit organization isn’t taxed and therefore wouldn’t owe the IRS a dime.

No problem. There’s always another number on the list. Alvernaz answered his phone. A guy with a thick foreign accent, identifying himself by the surname of Wilson, claimed he’d already frozen Alvernaz’s bank account and demanded money. Alvernaz decided to have some fun at this ripoff artist’s expense, not the other way around.

The call came at 5:11 a.m., rousing Alvernaz from a sound sleep. When the scammer said he was with the IRS, Alvernaz asked where the guy was calling from.

“Chicago,” the con artist replied. “It’s after 8 here.”

Alvernaz got a laugh out of that. Chicago is in the Central time zone, two hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. When its 5:11 a.m. here, it’s 7:11 a.m. there.

“I’ve gotten these calls six or seven times in the past,” Alvernaz said. “This one had my address. He wanted my credit card number. And asked if I have a bank card.”

“You do have money in your bank account?” the scammer questioned.

“You told me you froze my account,” Alvernaz responded. “I can’t get to it.”

“You must give us $200 right now and I will stop the marshal,” the scammer said.

For the next 70 minutes, Alvernaz kept talking to the scammer, who told him he owed $1,297.27 in back taxes going back several years. Then, the scammer told him it was for 2016. Really? Any tax liability for this year won’t be due until April 2017. Why, Alvernaz asked, did it take them so long to tell him about this horrendous oversight?

“He said a guy named Jackson Rose came out three different times with a personalized letter,” Alvernaz said. “I asked him when that was, and he gave me the dates of 11/11/2015 and 1/21/2016. Nov. 11? I said I must have been at the Veterans Day parade that day.”

Veterans Day is a federal holiday and the IRS is a federal agency.

The scammer kept up the pressure, demanding the money and the bank information. Alvernaz was having too much fun to stop now.

“Are you funning with me?” the scammer said angrily.

“No, Mr. Wilson,” Alvernaz replied. “But are you by any chance related to Wilson, the soccer ball from ‘Cast Away’?” (Remember the Tom Hanks film?)

“No! You must be funning with me,” the scammer replied.

“I told him I was having a heart attack and to please call an ambulance,” Alvernaz laughed. He even dropped the phone, moaned and groaned and did his best Fred “I’m comin’ to join you, ’Lizabeth” Sanford impression for the scammer’s benefit. “He said, ‘We will call one for you, but you have to pay first. We will not release your phone.’ 

Alvernaz hung up and, indeed, he couldn’t use his phone. It’s a darned good thing he really wasn’t having a heart attack. A few minutes later, the scammer called back – one of about 20 times throughout the experience. Alvernaz finally answered, but disguised his voice.

“He wanted to speak to ‘Mr. Willie,’ ” said Alvernaz, who told the scammer he was the next-door neighbor. “I said, ‘He can’t talk to you right now. He’s (Alvernaz is) about to go to the hospital.’ And (the scammer) said, ‘Do you know if he went to the bank?’ 

No, he didn’t go to the bank and nor did “Mr. Wilson” laugh all the way to it.

“At least he couldn’t call anybody for another hour,” Alvernaz said. “That was cool.”

Scam warning

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

Call 800-366-4484 to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you.

Source: Internal Revenue Service