That lady called again – the one who sounds like she’s just finished smoking a couple cartons of cigarettes. She said I’m in trouble with the IRS. I didn’t quite get the reason because she won’t leave a complete message. The recording always starts mid-sentence, spoken with her deep, gravely voice: “…with the IRS. You need to call the tax center immediately to avoid additional penalties and possibly jail time. Call 515 837….”

Like every American, I’m terrified of the IRS. They have the power to bankrupt even famous people like Willy Nelson. Once I got a letter from them saying I’d made an error on a tax return I’d filled out three years before. They charged me nearly two hundred dollars in interest and penalties – the math error itself was only about thirty-nine bucks – but I’m not complaining (in case they’re reading this). I’m just happy I only had to pay three years worth of interest for them to get around to noticing the error.  

I don’t mess with the IRS.

But here’s what I can’t understand. If they’re so powerful, and they’re really after me, can’t they at least leave a whole, intact message?

And why doesn’t the IRS have a 1-800 number to call back? They’re going to throw me in jail AND make me pay for the call?

Also, why is their agent always a woman with a low, threatening voice like she’s at some Mafia funeral – like she’s saying, “You better cooperate or you’ll be next on Guido’s list.” Can’t the IRS hire a regular person to terrify me?

The first time I got one of these messages, I admit I was shaken. But I replayed it a couple of times, asked myself the aforementioned questions, and gambled that it was probably not on the up and up. I reasoned that if it really was the IRS, they’d send me a letter confirming the threats. I deleted the message, the first of many I’ve gotten over the years – same woman, although she does change the message sometimes (same deep, gravely voice): “…court may find you guilty if you don’t…”

I’m writing this for the vulnerable people who get these calls – such as immigrants unfamiliar with low-life American scammers or the elderly who tend to be more trusting. What must they think when that crabby woman says she’s going to put them in jail?

If you get one of those calls, and you will, here’s an easy formula to determine if the call is really from the IRS or just someone trying to steal your money and/or identity.  

Cranky Mafia woman with emphysema + cut off message + no toll-free number = scam.

Keep this formula by your phone and you’ll be just fine.