I received a call on my home phone recently from someone who identified himself as Officer Jason Dean with the Investigative Bureau of the Department of Treasury. He said an arrest warrant had been issued in my name for failure to respond to IRS Notice CP503 — a third reminder — informing me that I owed $5,347 in back taxes. He said my home and cell phones were being traced and I should not attempt to leave the city.
"That's ridiculous," I said, "I never received any notices."
"That is not my concern," he replied. "We're only calling you as a courtesy to inform you that you will be arrested and charged with failure to meet federal taxation requirements, malicious conduct, and theft by deception. You will be arrested within the next two hours and held in custody for six months pending an investigation."
And just like that, I was caught in what has become the biggest tax scam in American history.
I called upstairs to my teenage son and told him to call his other mother and tell her to come home. Then I got back on the phone and asked for more details, trying to prove to myself I could dismiss this as a hoax. I asked for the address they had for me. (He had it right.) I asked for the tax year this issue allegedly stemmed from. (2011.) I asked for my Social Security number. (He said he was not permitted to give this over the phone.)
I usually do my own taxes, and I am never completely confident that I get it right. Just a few months ago, I had received notice that I owed about $700 in back taxes for income I'd forgotten to include on my 2013 return. More recently, I filed my 2014 taxes, hoping I'd done them right. But 2011? I couldn't even remember what I'd reported.
But the man on the phone was done talking. He repeated that I must not leave the area, or I would be charged with evading the police. Then he prepared to hang up.
"Wait," I said. "This has to be a mistake. If I owed back taxes, I would pay back taxes."
He paused and asked, "Can you tell me truthfully you have the intention to pay any taxes you owe?"
"Yes, of course," I said.
He said he could transfer me to another unit that might be able to help. But, he warned, they don't have to. (It sounded ridiculous but I wasn't quibbling.)
A moment later, another man came on the line, identifying himself as Investigator Duane Maguire. He repeated that I would be held in custody for six months while a lien was put on my property.
Thinking this all bizarre but also thinking that things do go terribly wrong for people every day, I asked what I could do.
"The payment options are closed," he said. "This is a criminal tax fraud case."
"There must be something," I said, adding, "Look, I have children."
"Let me ask you," he said, "Have you ever been arrested before?"
Assured I had not been, he said there was one possibility — if he could obtain a 1099C form for out-of-court restitution for cancellation of debt. But this would be difficult to secure, and there was not much time.
Just then, my cell phone rang. The caller ID read 911.
I told the man on the phone the police were calling me. "911? Already?" he said. "Don't pick it up. They are trying to trace your location to make the arrest. I will try to call them off. Just don't pick it up."
He then explained what I would have to do to avoid being arrested. "I cannot take any personal information from you," he said. "But if you obtain an Instant Tax Payment voucher at the bank and give me the code on it, I can obtain the 1099C form." This, he said, would give me 48 hours to visit an IRS office and clear things up. But, he insisted, you must stay on the phone with me at all times until the process is completed. This made no sense. But I didn't question it.
I looked at the kitchen clock. It was 5:10 p.m. I told him I had to pick up my son from baseball practice.
"I can call you on your cell phone but you have to stay on with me while you pick up your son and go to the bank," he said, adding: "This is a federally monitored and recorded line, and you must not discuss what is happening with anyone or you will be in violation of federal law." I raced upstairs and told my son what was happening and that he should relay it all to his other mother, Kate.
My cell phone rang. It was 911. It rang again. It was Kate. It rang again. It was 911. It rang again. It was the alleged Investigator Maguire. Bringing the phone with me, I rushed out of the house, telling my son to come with me to drive and refusing him a moment to change out of his pajamas.
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