by Dennis Dalman
At first, Francis Gomes of Sartell was so rattled by the phone call, he broke out in a sweat.
He was utterly incredulous when the official-sounding woman on the other end of the line told him the police would soon be at his house, his assets would be seized, his driver’s license revoked and a lien placed on his property.
“What did you say?!” he asked her in a state of utter disbelief, not believing his ears.
It took a few more minutes until Gomes realized it was an absolutely vicious telephone scam attempt. At that point, he played along with the woman, hoping to learn more so he could inform the police.
This is what happened: On Friday, Dec. 13, there was a voice message on Gomes’ home phone, telling him to call the Internal Revenue Service immediately about “tax issues.”
Gomes’s wife, Shikha, called the number, and a woman said she must talk to a Mr. Francis Gomes.
When Gomes returned home that day, he called the number. Another woman answered who said she was the supervisor of the other woman who had called. She told Gomes there were serious discrepancies in his tax filings and Gomes had apparently been hiding tax information from the years 2001 to 2011.
She said it had reached a point that the police would arrest him at home and his wife at her place of employment. The IRS, she said, would confiscate his bank accounts, driver’s license, credit cards and a lien would be placed on everything he owns.
Gomes broke into a sweat.
“I have, as far as I know never done anything illegal,” he told her. “I have always been sincere and prompt when it comes to my taxes. Anything wrong would have to be from a lack of knowledge on my part, but whatever it was, it was certainly not intentional.”
She accused him of ignoring previous warnings from the IRS. She said one day, a messenger was sent to the Gomes residence but no one was home.
Gomes asked the woman how much he owed in back taxes. The amount, she said, was $3,322.
“Do you have that much in your account?” she asked.
“Well, I’d probably have to go to the bank to get an emergency loan,” he said.
Again and again, she practically demanded, “Well, can you get that money from the bank? Can you get that loan as soon as possible? This must be paid right away or the police will come. If you can’t get that money to us, everything you own will be seized within two hours.”
By that time, Gomes was certain it was a scam, and he began to play along.
Next, the woman insisted he go to the nearest Walmart store and get a money order in the amount of $3,322. Then she gave him a list of codes and numbers to send in with the money order.
“Can you get that money?” she asked, demandingly.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said.
“I think you are trying to trick me!” she said, trying to suppress her anger.
“No!” Gomes told her. “I think it’s YOU who are trying to trick me.”
At that point, the woman burst into a verbal paroxysm of foul curse words and hung up the phone.
Gomes called the Sartell Police Department. The dispatcher informed him they have heard of similar scams, but unfortunately there is virtually nothing they can do as the scam crooks are operating from out of state or overseas, and they are almost impossible to catch.
Gomes is still a bit stunned by how shaky he became when first hearing the woman’s spiel.
“She sounded so official, so genuine,” he said, adding he should have known in an instant it was a scam, but he was so shocked by her accusations and threats it took him off guard, emotionally.
When Shikha came home, he told her what transpired.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t go to Walmart!” she said.
Later, Gomes called the Sartell Newsleader, hoping to share his story so others will be on guard against that – or similar – phone scams.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.