Shutdown Influencing Phone Scams

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By Steven Sandberg

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. – Karen Callahan said she knew it was a scam right away.

This week, she began receiving phone calls from an unknown number, with a “530” Northern California area code. She said she never picks up calls from unknown numbers, but Tuesday, the caller left a message.

“This is John Watson with the IRS, Internal Revenue Service Department,” said a man in a thick Indian accent. “There is deficiencies in your income tax.”

Callahan said she was certain the call was phony. She went online and found several web pages filled with complaints about the same number. In each description, a man with a thick accent claimed he was with the IRS and wanted to collect money.

Most people said they ignored the call or hung up. Others who tried to call him out on the scam were met with cursing and hostility. In each case, he used a different name, going by John Watson, Ronnie Williams, Kevin Peterson, Sean Miller, and Dexter Coleman.

Callahan tried to go online to report the phone calls, but found that many websites were offline because of the federal government shutdown. The Web site for the Do Not Call List was down. So was the IRS Web site. A phone number for the local IRS office only had a message saying the office was closed due to the shutdown.

Callahan said she thinks more scammers are taking advantage of the fact that there are no places to report them.
“They know you can’t find out if it’s the IRS, or you can’t report the number,” she said.

NewsWatch 12 tried turning the tables on the scammer. When we began asking questions on our first phone call, the man became flustered, before cursing at us and hanging up.

We called back, and the man told us his name was Chris Noriega. After informing him the conversation was being recorded, he admitted he was not with the IRS, and was trying to scam people out of money.

“I am a scam artist,” he said.

He claimed to have scammed “thousands” of people, and said that he was taking the opportunity with the federal shutdown.

“Federal Government is shut down, it’s closed. Nobody can do nothing.”

Callahan has since reported the number to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

The Consumer Protection division of the Oregon Department of Justice said people should not pick up calls from blocked numbers or numbers they don’t recognize. If you do pick up and realize it is a scam, hang up immediately and do not give out any personal information. You can also make reports to the Oregon DOJ.