IRS scam costs Connecticut college student over $7,900 in gift cards

More college students and their parents are finding themselves the victims of an ongoing phone scam. In this scheme, thieves impersonate IRS officials over the phone, demanding payment for federal student taxes that do not exist.

Over the last three years, taxpayers have lost more than $49 million in IRS impersonation scams. Caissie Davis, a senior at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, doesn’t usually answer unrecognized calls, but on the second ring, the scammers got her, threatening her with arrest and even the possibility of losing her college degree if she didn’t pay up, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. 

Davis thought she knew better, but the Quinnipiac journalism major joined the growing list of students scammed by fake IRS agents.

Calling from a fake number that showed up as a local police station and armed with her personal information, the scammer threatened arrest if she didn’t pay $2,900 for a federal student tax – a tax that doesn’t exist.

And while she may have been fooled into giving them money, her bank’s fraud alert system wasn’t, tipping off her father, Billy Davis, who manages her account. That’s when he started texting her, frantically.

“They really had me wrapped around their finger believing every single word that they were saying,” Davis said.

Davis thought she knew better, but the Quinnipiac journalism major joined the growing list of students scammed by fake IRS impostors. 

“I knew, like, deep down this was really weird but they kept giving me evidence,” Davis said. “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.”

“So they had done some digging on you?” Miller asked.

“Yeah, of course. Like, way beyond digging,” Davis said.

Calling from a fake number that showed up as a local police station and armed with her personal information, the scammers threatened arrest if she didn’t pay $2,900 for a federal student tax – a tax that doesn’t exist.
 
“They basically told me resolve this or your life’s over in a way,” Davis said.

And while she may have been fooled into giving them money, her bank’s fraud alert system was not, tipping off her father, Billy Davis, who manages her account. That’s when he started texting her, frantically.
 
“I just felt that something was definitely wrong,” her father said.

Billy couldn’t reach Caisse because her scammers kept her on the phone for four hours. She drove some 30 miles to various stores, paying in an unusual way -- $2,000 on one gift card, and $500 on another.

The scammers tacked on additional fees they claimed she owed. In all, she handed over $7,900 in gift cards for Target and iTunes. 

During the ordeal, her father could only helplessly watch as the fraud alerts rolled in.

“As a dad, a parent, not to be able to help to help your child,” Miller said.

“It hurt,” Billy Davis said. 

“They are very persuasive, they’re also very aggressive. So they tend to intimidate people into staying on the phone,” said Anny Pachner, a spokeswoman for the IRS. She said the only way to thwart attackers is to educate the public. 
 
“What’s most important for you to protect yourself from becoming a victim is knowing the signs,” Pachner said.

For example, the IRS does not call to demand money in a specific form by phone. They don’t threaten immediate arrest and will never ask for credit cards of personal information over the phone. 

Caisse Davis said she is embarrassed, but wants others to learn from her mistake. 

“If I could spare someone the mental strain and the financial burden that I went through, I would be completely honored to do so,” Davis said.

Police said they can’t find Caisse’s scammers because this type of thief typically demands payment through untraceable modes. The latest trend is gift cards. How does it work? The victims are ordered to scratch off the back of the card and read out the sequence of numbers. 

As Caisse learned the hard way, there is no way to trace those purchases. Caisse said while being told to pay in gift cards raised a red flag, the con artist had an elaborate explanation for everything and she was too scared not to comply.