Lawrence Walsh: The IRS doesn't leave phone messages

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Helen Podgainy of Sewickley came home recently from her pediatric practice in Coraopolis, heard the following message on her answering machine and wrote it down verbatim:

“Hello. This is an important message! So please, listen to the message carefully.

“This is the Final Notification Call from IRS. As there is a scrutiny going under your name with the Department of Internal Revenue Services.

“So as soon as you receive the message — to return the call — you can reach a live agent at [a toll-free number the caller repeated].

“And if we don’t hear from you within the next 12 hours, this will be taken against you in a courthouse. And an arrest warrant would be issued against your name. So ... return the call.

“Thank you, and have a nice day.”

Dr. Podgainy was amused.

“Don’t you just love their closing sentence?” she said.

“It’s actually pretty funny,” she added. “They never say a name, mine or theirs, and their English is so stilted. I’m still waiting for the warrant to arrive. But it’s not a joke if people really fall for such trash.

“To me, it was obvious that it was not legit, but some people must fall for it or [the callers] wouldn’t keep doing it. I don’t know why I keep getting targeted for these things, maybe it’s my age [71].”

Dr. Podgainy said she considered “playing dumb and calling the number just to see what they say when someone calls,” but decided against it because the callers then would have her phone number. The message on her answering machine might have been a robo call.

If you find such a call on your answering machine, delete it.

If you receive such a call when you answer the phone, hang up.

If you receive such an email, delete it.

The IRS uses regular mail to communicate with the public.

I forwarded to the Federal Communications Commission the toll-free number that had been left on Dr. Podgainy’s phone.

Information: www.fcc.gov/complaints; 1-888-225-5322.

Grandparent scam

A Pennsylvania grand jury investigation has led to charges against four co-conspirators engaged in the “Grandparent scam” that targeted elderly victims throughout the country, bilked them out of $162,600 and tried to steal $37,325 more.

One victim said she was taken for $64,900.

“[It’s] a scam that’s as sinister as it is pervasive,” state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said in a news release.

The scam, which was based in Philadelphia, goes like this:

A grandparent gets a phone call, sometimes late at night, from someone posing as a grandchild; an attorney allegedly representing a grandchild in some kind of trouble; or a law enforcement official purportedly calling about a grandchild in jail.

The bottom line is the “grandchild” needs money immediately for whatever scam the caller thinks the grandparent will fall for — to repair a badly damaged car, attorney’s fees or bail money to get out of jail.

The victims included at least 11 senior citizens in eight states. Their average age is 79, and some live as far away as California, Texas and Washington. Ms. Kane said the investigation continues because the full scope of the scam is still unknown.

Spencer Compas, 29, Witson Lavilette, 38, and Johanne Wesh, 37, all of Philadelphia, and her brother, Kens Wesh, 38, of New York City, have been charged with identity theft, theft by deception, criminal conspiracy and two counts of corrupt organizations.

Mr. Compas, Mr. Lavilette and Ms. Wesh are being held on $1 million bail. An arrest warrant has been issued for Mr. Wesh.

The investigation began when a 77-year-old man received a call from a man claiming to be an attorney for his grandson who had been “arrested” for DUI in Philadelphia. He wired $6,600 to the “attorney.” When he was called again and asked to send an additional $10,000, he notified the police.

A sting operation was set up. An officer dressed as a UPS employee delivered a package purportedly containing $10,000 to an address in Philadelphia. Mr. Compas was arrested when he accepted the package.

Ms. Kane said anyone who sent money or was asked to send money to an address in Philadelphia, Abington, Pa., or the Bronx, N.Y., should contact her organized crime section at 1-610-631-5937.

Information: www.attorneygeneral.gov.

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.

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