Police are warning about an old scam with a new a very dangerous twist and Wednesday night, a Church Hill woman became a victim.
Nicole Smith got a call that said she owed almost $1,000 to the IRS. When she refused to pay the scammers, they called the police on her.
Smith said she received a message on her home phone that said the IRS was going to Sue. When she called the scammers back, the man who picked up had a foreign accent and said he was with the IRS. He said if she didn't pay up immediately, she would be arrested the next day.
"I said, I have two children, I'm a single mom, I can't go to jail," said Smith.
The callers aggressively pressured her to pay them, so Smith panicked and hung up. They called her back from different numbers over 50 times.
"I mean, blowing up my phone, I could barely get a minute to call my friend for advice," she said. "He said, you are in trouble, you are cheating the IRS, you are going to be arrested, and he hung up on me."
Smith then called her ex-husband to tell him what happened, but the ordeal wasn't over. The same person called back telling her to look out her window.
"There were four police cars outside my window! I was panicked because I couldn't believe, how did he get four police cars to my house? Four!"
Church Hill Police Chief Mark Johnson said the scammers called 911 pretending to be Smith. The scammers used software that made it look like her house phone called the police, and a female voice told police there were men invading her house with AK-47s.
Two Church Hill Police officers and two Hawkins County Sheriff's deputies responded to the call. Johnson said this can create a dangerous situation for the victims and police.
"You're gonna have your hand gun and/or rifles out and ready for a confrontation because they were going in theoretically at that time to save a woman's life who they thought was the subject of a home invasion," said Chief Johnson.
Smith said she couldn't convince the police it wasn't her who called 911. Her home phone showed she called 911 and her cell phone showed she called dispatch.
"I was a basket case. I said, I didn't call 911, and they said, ma'am, your phone shows you called 911," said Smith. "It was so scary to have somebody not believe you and you're the only person. I had no idea, how did they do this. And there's no way to verify her story."
Finally Smith's ex-husband came to her home and corroborated her story.
"All I could think was all I did was tell these men I won't give them any money, and they're scammers, and they totally did this to me," said Smith.
Now she wants to make sure others are prepared.
"How many more people have they scammed? Older people who are afraid and don't want to go to jail, so they just get into their credit card or savings or whatever and just hand over the $1,000 or whatever it is they say that they owe?" said Smith.
Chief Johnson has this advice if you get a call from someone saying they are with the IRS:
- Hang up immediately, like within the first five seconds
- don't answer again
- if they can't talk to you, they move on to the next number on their list
- go through your phone service to block certain incoming numbers
The IRS doesn’t call people to collect debts. It doesn’t email, Facebook, or Tweet people trying to collect. These types of scam calls originate from other countries, but telephone numbers show up with a U.S. area code.