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IRS Scam Conned Victims in 21 States

IRS Scam Conned Victims in 21 States

June 1, 2016

An IRS impersonation scam traveled the country this week, using dozens of fake names and identifications  and collecting millions of dollars in payments wired by unwitting victims from at least 21 states.

Newly unsealed federal court complaints provide a look at the alleged operations of the five defendants, who are charged with wire fraud and conspiracy.

RELATED: 5 Arrested for IRS Impersonation Scam

Investigators characterized them as Cuban nationals who knew one another and operated from a similar playbook.

They typically phoned potential victims, falsely claimed the targets owed tax debts to the IRS, then threatened arrest if payments weren’t made immediately, the court filings allege. Often, they instructed victims to wire thousands of dollars, viaMoneyGram or Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer Service, to the names of people in other states, the filings charge.

Using false identifications in those names, the scammers went to Walmart stores in those other states and picked up the money.

The five — Jennifer Valerino Nuñez; Dennis Delgado Caballero; Arnoldo Perez Mirabal; Yaritza Espinosa Diaz and Roberto Fontanella Caballero — allegedly swindled an estimated $2 million from approximately 1,500 taxpayers and others. Federal investigators believe the suspects are part of a broader group of scammers and potential copycats who so far have stolen roughly $36.5 million from 6,400 victims nationwide.

They are expected to plead not guilty.

“What I want people to know the most is how scary it is, and how realistic it seems,” said Jeannie Gaddis, a mother of two from central Illinois.

Speaking in a Friday phone interview, Gaddis said she lost roughly $4,000 in late April after responding to a phone message from a man who identified himself as a U.S. Department of the Treasury officer. He claimed she faced arrest for tax evasion.

Gaddis believed she owed nothing. She said she was suspicious, in part because the man spoke with what seemed to be a foreign accent.

RELATED: What an IRS Scam Phone Call Sounds Like

But he named a specific year, which happened to be one when Gaddis said she and her husband had filed an amended tax return. Temporarily convinced, she followed the man’s instructions. He told her to remain on her cellphone with him as she left work, withdrew $6,000 from her bank account, and then drove to three different Walmarts.

At each location, the man told her to send MoneyGram wires of amounts slightly above or below $2,000. She wired two payments to the names of men in Nevada, and the third to a man in North Carolina. Gaddis said two of the transactions went through successfully, but the third didn’t — ultimately enabling her to get that money back.

“These things were all suspicious in my head,” Gaddis said of the episode, “but the fear in my body just took over.”

Gaddis said she doesn’t know whether the suspects arrested this week were involved in conning her. However, the court complaints filed against the suspects outlined what happened when other victims were convinced to wire money to purported IRS or Treasury officials.

In early December, a man from Florence, Ky., used MoneyGram to wire more than $3,720 to Arkansas. The transfer went to a Natalie Monre, the name of a woman the man had been falsely told was a Treasury official, the court filings show.

Surveillance video from a Walmart in Lonoke, Ark., showed that the wired funds were picked up by a woman investigators later identified as Jennifer Valerino Nuñez. The court filings allege that Natalie Monre was among at least 21 false identities Nuñez used as she and Dennis Delgado Caballero traveled the country fleecing victims with the IRS impersonation scam.

One of the court complaints alleges that Nuñez, working with Caballero, used the Natalie Monre alias to receive 20 fraudulent transactions totaling $27,620 at Walmart stores around Arkansas during just two days in early December.

RELATED: $13 Million is Gone After Two Hours and 1,600 Fake Credit Cards

The scammers didn’t always succeed, however.

Ray Buchanan, 70, of Denton, Texas, said he got about half a dozen calls in April from people who used the IRS impersonation scam.

“Do you think I’m a fool?” Denton said he responded.

J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, urged anyone who gets such calls to hang up, and then log the scam attempt to a reporting page on his agency’s website.

“No legitimate United States Treasury or IRS official will demand that anyone make payments via MoneyGram, Western Union, Walmart-2-Walmart or any other money-wiring method for any debt to the IRS or the Department of the Treasury,” said George.


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