This story is by Pamela Hodges and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
My cell phone rang. The telephone number was from someone in Northern Virginia, 571-526-0031.
“This is the IRS. There have been huge discrepancies in your tax filings from 2008 until 2015. Do you have a criminal attorney? In two hours the police and the sheriff will be at your door and you will be put in jail for at least seventy-two hours.”
I knew my husband shouldn’t have done our taxes himself. He made mistakes and now I have to go to jail.
My oldest daughter and I were sitting in the kitchen eating our breakfast. I waved my free hand in front of her face, trying to get her to look at me; she was staring at her cell phone. “The IRS is going to arrest me! Call your dad.”
The IRS agent gave me his name and his badge number. He spoke quickly in a deep voice : legal allegations, willful fraud, huge anomalies, you will be deported; we will garnish your wages.
Could I be deported? I am Canadian, but I am a legal immigrant. I didn’t fraud anyone on purpose. Now I have to make sure my husband never does our taxes again by himself. I told him not to.
“We tried to contact you twice. On September 17, 2016 someone came to your home to deliver papers and you were not home. On November 10th, 2016 the United States Postal Service tried to deliver a certified letter but there was no one to sign for it. They left a slip to pick it up at the Post Office.”
Maybe they did leave a paper? I should take better care of the mail when I bring it in the house. I could have misplaced the paper.
“Why didn’t you pick up the mail we sent from the post office? The package was returned to us. You had your chance to amend your taxes. Now it is too late. Here are your formal charges. It is now a legal case. ”
“Wait. Let me grab a pencil. I want to write it down.” Holding the phone with one hand, I wrote down what he said, stabbing the paper with the pencil as I wrote.
“The charges against you are: One. Violation of Federal Tax Code. Two. Theft by deception. Three. Willful misrepresentation of information to a government body.”
“But, I didn’t see any note from the postal service. Please send the information again. We would never steal from the government. We are honest. My husband served in the military. We would never lie to a government official.”
“I see you are trying. You didn’t mean to be deceptive. I will give you a chance to pay, but you must pay within the next hour.”
“I can’t pay within the next hour. It would take me over an hour to get the money and drive to the IRS office in Philadelphia.”
“When did I say you had to go to an IRS office? You just have to pay with Special Tax Vouchers at a tax certified store. The only way for me to not send the sheriff, is if you don’t disconnect this call. You must stay on the line. You can’t tell anyone.”
“How much money do I owe?”
“You owe $6,846.48.”
“Say that again please.”
“You owe $6,846.48.”
I covered the phone with one hand and whispered to my daughter. “They are going to put me in jail if I don’t pay today.”
I could hear the house phone ringing but I didn’t answer it.
I walked upstairs holding my cell phone. My daughter followed me up the stairs. She handed me her phone, “Mama, Papa is on the phone. He wants to talk to you.”
“I can’t talk to him. I promised the IRS to not talk to anyone. I am getting dressed and then I am going to drive to the bank.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“My daughter. My husband called me on her phone, but I didn’t talk to him.”
I walked into my closet and set my cell phone down on the floor.
“The phone is on speaker. Can you still hear me?
“Yes. Now, remember, don’t hang up.”
My face felt flushed as I put on my jeans and a black shirt. I buttoned up my shirt and then tucked it into my jeans.
“I will drive you to the bank Mom.”
The IRS agent said, “Your daughter can not drive you. She might talk and tell a friend about what is going on.”
“Mom. Your buttons don’t line up.”
“Crap.” I fixed my shirt and left the house. Locking the door behind me.
“You want to talk to me while I drive?”
“Yes. Don’t hang up.”
My daughter followed me out of the house and got into her car. I could see her out of my rear view mirror as she followed behind me. Why is she following me?
“I just stopped at a red light. Why can’t I just mail a check to the IRS?”
No, you have to pay today in the next hour.”
I crossed Buchert Road on North Charlotte and waited at the light to turn left on East Philadelphia Avenue by the Wawa gas station. My knuckles were white on my left hand as I gripped the steering wheel.
“How far are you from the bank?’
“About ten minutes.”
I turned left onto East Philadelphia. The speed limit was thirty-five. I drove ten miles under the speed limit.
“Do you have any kids? I have three,” I said.
“I don’t talk about my personal life.”
“How do I know you are a real IRS agent?”
“Hang up and I will call you from another line, and caller ID will pop up that it is the IRS calling. You must promise not to tell anyone about the special deal we are giving you, or the IRS will be flooded by people trying to pay off their back taxes and avoid jail.”
I hung up the phone and waited for him to call me back. Caller ID said IRS; he must really be an IRS agent.
There was a car parked in front of the door to the bank. I waited until they pulled out before I parked and took their spot. “Can my husband take the money later?”
“No, you have to do it now! Put your phone in your pocket so no one can see it. I will still be able to hear you.”
The phone line was open as I told the bank teller, “I want to withdraw, $6,900 in cash. No, make it $7,000.”
I walked over to another teller, handed her a piece of paper with a phone number written on it, and whispered to her. “Will you look up this number for me? Tell me if it’s the IRS? Just give me a thumbs up. I have the IRS on an open line on my phone, and I don’t want them to hear you talking to me.”
I felt like I was a hamster in a clear ball, rolling from teller to teller, seeing and hearing, but in my own world, separate and alone.
She gave me a thumbs up. The phone number the IRS agent had called me from was an official IRS telephone number.
It was so much money, and I had to send it today.
I rubbed the fingers of my left hand against my palm while I watched the teller count the money. Sweat ran down my back and the hair on my arms stood away from the skin.
My daughter walked into the bank as the bank teller handed me seventy one hundred dollar bills. “Mom, Papa is on the phone he wants to talk to you.”
“No. I can’t.”
She placed her cell phone close to my face. I hit her hand away and said, “No, I can’t talk to him.”
“Mama, Papa said to drive to the accountant’s office. It’s only two blocks away.”
My daughter handed me a note while I was counting the money in a private room at the bank. The note said: Papa says that you talk to him first no matter what. I crumbled up the note and shoved it in my pocket.
I put the seventy, one hundred dollar bills in my wallet. The bills were so thick I couldn’t snap it shut. As I walked out of the private room at the bank, my daughter placed her phone by my ear. “Talk to Papa.”
I said, “I can’t talk to you!”
Sitting in my van with the door locked, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and said, “I have the money. Can’t my husband send it later?”
The IRS agent said, “Who were you talking to? You can’t talk to anyone! You need to go and pay now.”
While the IRS agent told me how to send the money, I glanced in the side mirror on the driver’s side, the side mirror on the passenger side, and then I looked in the rearview mirror. Repeating the pattern while I sat alone in the car
“Now you must drive to a tax certified store. The closest one is in Reading.”
“But, I don’t know how to get there. I don’t have a GPS. I don’t like this. I don’t feel safe carrying all this money. Why can’t my husband take the money later? Why can’t I just write a check and mail it?
“No, you are too late. You have to pay today!”
I set my cell-phone down on the seat beside me and placed my head on the steering wheel. My daughter tapped on the window of my car; I unlocked the door. She handed me her phone and said, “Mom, talk to Papa!”
My husband said, “It’s a scam. The IRS would never call and demand money. Drive to the accountant’s office. I will leave work now and meet you there.”
I handed my daughter her phone and said, “Thank you.”
I closed and locked the door and picked up my cell phone, “You are not the IRS. I am not driving to Reading to give you the money.”
“The police are going to come and arrest you.”
“You are lying.”
“You will spend the night in jail. You must pay today. Don’t drive to the accountant’s office. Go and send the money now, or we will send an IRS agent to your house right now.”
“I have to talk to my accountant.”
“I am sending an IRS agent now.”
“Fine. Go ahead. Arrest me.”
I hung up my phone.
Turning right onto East Philadelphia Avenue, I drove two blocks and parked in front of the accountant’s office.
Barry, our accountant, looked up when I walked in.
“My husband is meeting me here. Someone called and said they were the IRS. I almost gave them money.”
Barry took a copy of a newspaper article off of his desk and showed it to me. “IRS Scams Continue To Be a Serious Threat.”
When my husband walked in the door I handed him seventy one hundred dollar bills. He took the money and put it back in the bank.
There were no police cars in the driveway when I drove home. The IRS didn’t knock on the door and arrest me.
A few days later I deposited a check at another bank. “Have you heard about the IRS scam?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“They call people and pretend they are the IRS. In the last year, they have defrauded people out of over thirteen million dollars.
“From people who are stupid and give their social security number over the phone.”
I asked my daughter if I should call my story, “How I almost got scammed out of $6,846.48 by a fake IRS agent.” She said, “That title is too long. How about, “I am an idiot.”
At least I didn’t give the IRS my social security number.