Over the past three years, impostors posing as Internal Revenue Service officials have scammed students out of more than $49 million. The students are hoaxed into believing that they will be arrested if they don’t pay a fictional “federal student tax.”
Caisse Davis, a journalism major at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, told CBS News that she typically doesn’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers, but she did answer when the mysterious caller rang back for a second time.
The scam was fairly straightforward, but the call lasted over four hours. The IRS impersonator called from a fake number while having Davis’ personal information ready at hand, as if to prove they were really from the IRS. The caller threatened to have Davis arrested if she didn’t fork over $2,900 for a fake “federal student tax.”
The impostor asked her to pay in gift cards, which made it easy for their purchases to remain untraceable from police. Davis was asked to scratch off the codes on the back of gift cards and read them out over the phone, to which she obliged.
Over a span of four hours on the phone, Davis was pressured into driving to several stores to pick up specified amounts in gift cards. In total, she ended up giving the caller $7,900 in gift card money from iTunes and Target.
“They really had me wrapped around their finger believing every single word that they were saying,” Davis reportedly told CBS correspondent Michelle Miller.
Davis explained that the scam was pretty easy to fall for, despite that she is usually on guard for fraudsters. Davis said, “I knew, like deep down this was really weird but they kept giving me evidence. The number that they were calling from was the Hamden Police. They told me all of my information, my address at here and at home.”
Fortunately, before she got tricked out of even more precious cash, her bank’s fraud alert picked up on the suspicious activity. Her dad, who manages her bank account, immediately texted her to ask what was going on when he received the alert, but it was too late.
Despite the embarrassment of going public that she was a scamming victim, Davis says she hopes others won’t make the same mistake. She thought she knew better, but maintained that “[the caller] basically told me resolve this or your life’s over in a way.”
According to CBS News, there are several factors regarding phone scams which university students should understand so they don’t get tricked. The IRS will not call to ask for money in a certain form over the phone, such as asking for a payment by gift or credit card. They also will not threaten a person with immediate arrest and will not pry for personal information by phone.
These pointers are especially important to remember, considering how easy it is for even the brightest of students to fall for scams. Many people are so eager to pick up the phone, no matter who is calling. IRS hoaxes can cause incredible financial setbacks and emotional stress, as Davis explained. Fortunately, she had her father looking out for her so it couldn't happen a second time.