I stuffed a bralette in my purse and looked around the apartment frantically. There was no time to change or turn off the computer. I'd have to leave everything as is. The IRS was on the phone and I had a warrant out for my arrest. $3,420 I unknowingly owed after missing the mail messenger twice. I hustled down the street, sweating, panicked. Terrified of being arrested or worse, being slapped with the $85,000 fine they threatened.
"You have to stay on the phone or it will be interpreted as non-cooperation. Do you understand?" The voice in my ear fed my fear with commands.
"If you lie about the amount in your accounts, we will know because it's being tracked by the federal government. Everything you say and do is being recorded."
I arrived at what they referred to as a "government certified store" (Smith's) and went to the "government certified card" section. Gift cards lined the displays in neat rows.
"It will say "Itune" on it."
"Do you mean "Itunes"? Plural right?" Just making sure I was following instructions like an exemplary citizen.
"Right, right," he asserted in a thick Indian accent, suspiciously sloppy with grammar for an IRS agent.
"Remember tenant three," he instructed, "You cannot speak about this matter publicly or the warrant will not be held and you will be arrested. Do not mute me or hang up, and do not tell anyone about the reason for purchasing the cards."
As I bought the cards with the only money I had to pay my bills, I felt emotionless. I had no idea how this could be happening. I was frozen in fear.
"Now scratch off the code. The barcode is automatically received by the IRS and once they receive your first payment, we will be able to have the charges cleared and the warrant put on hold."
"Is this kind of transfer made over the phone? Aren't I able to pay this at the IRS building?"
"This is your last warning, Miss. You have missed our attempts at contacting you and any resistance on your part will be seen as fraud. Believe me, the IRS does not care about your excuses."
After leaving the store and reciting each code, one by one, I sat on the curb, sweating. My hands shook. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been this afraid.
I had been "cleared" for 5 minutes to call my parents and ask for the remaining $3,000, in cash.
Against his adamant assurance that I would be arrested if I let word of this to anyone, I texted my friend, "Hey lady, I'm on the phone with someone who says they're from the IRS. Does that sound like a scam? Is this real?"
I called my parents.
"Hey guys. I'm in a really bad situation and I'm scared. This is an emergency. Please call me as soon as you get this."
I called 311.
"Dispatch 317892, this is Mary, how may I direct your call?"
"I've been on the phone with someone who says they're from the IRS. I just emptied my checking account and gave them access to $400 in iTunes gift cards. I'm worried that this might not be real."