It's really easy to realize you were scammed after the fact. It's so obvious that it's a scam but when you're in the moment, you're not thinking, you're just reacting. They manipulate you mind and scare you into doing things you wouldn't normally do. Here's our story:
A "police officer" named Officer Mark Williams called my boyfriend Keith (from a Washington D.C. number) and told him that he owed in back taxes from 2006-2012. Keith was doing his own taxes & a college student so he assumed that maybe he did his taxes wrong. Maybe they were right. The police officer informed Keith that if he didn't pay now he would be arrested and his court date was two days later. Panicked Keith followed the steps to be on good terms with the IRS.
He was then transferred to speak to IRS officer Roger Reed. Mr. Reed gave Keith and at this point, me the directions to pay for his back taxes. He informed Keith that he is to go to Office Depot and purchase Vanilla Reload cards. Vanilla Reload cards are the form of payment that the IRS accepted. Vanilla Reload cards can only be purchased with cash. At this point Keith owned around $3,000 in back taxes and needed to purchase four $500 Vanilla Reload cards at this one Office Depot and then we would drive to another Office Depots to purchase more.
This whole time Keith was told to honor an agreement of confidentiality with Mr. Reed & had to stay on the phone (the whole time. It was a phone call that last many hours.). This made it difficult for me to talk to him. Keith was unable to explain the situation to me and I was the one driving, which also increased the difficulties.
After Keith paid the $3,000, Mr. Reed then gave Keith three options:
1. Be detained by the police until his court date with the federal government.
2. Pay a $9,000 fee to the IRS as a holding fee, while they process his case and deduct the necessary fees. He said that a portion of the $9,000 would be given back in the next tax return.
3. Pay a one time lump sum of $4,500 to cover all of the back taxes from 2006-2012.
He choose option 2 (to at least insure that he would get money in return & not go to jail). We went to the bank to get more cash to be able to purchase more Vanilla Reload cards. We drove to probably every Office Depot in Orange County purchasing the cards. After we purchased a card Keith would give Mr. Reed the pin number on the back of the card to transfer the money to Keith's IRS account.
We did this from 11am-6pm. It was exhausting. It was scary. We were frightened, confused & knowing that our Europe trip was slipping out of our fingers. The confidentiality agreement was debilitating. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone what we were going through and Keith's phone was in constant use because he was on the phone with Mr. Reed. After it was finally done, I Googled "Vanilla Reload Card Scam." Our story is just like many others.
We're a few days removed from the situation & we're realizing how common a scam it is. I wish I would have researched it earlier. It all just felt like a dream. We are in a lot of pain about this. It's numbing. Not only did we loose $11,000 but our Europe trip may not be realistic for us anymore. We saved for years and it all slipped through our fingers in half a day. Like I said, it's really obvious that it's a scam after the fact but when you're in the middle of it, the scammer knew all of the right things to say. He had a pretty tight grip on us. I had my doubts and tried to figure it out, but like I said the confidentiality agreement was debilitating.
Now we're trying to figure out what our next move is. I quit my job last week and this is Keith's last week of work. We are still trying to figure out if Europe is an option anymore. We are pinching pennies & beginning to collect our belongings to sell. We have also set up a GoFundMe page & appreciate any help we can get.
Please spread the word about this scam. I do not want anyone to go through what we went through. Thank you for reading.
[EDIT 2/24/2015:] Thank you all for you comments, concerns and donations on our GoFundMe page. We are overwhelmed by the response we are getting. I wanted to answer some questions we’ve been getting to clarify our current situation.
We contacted Vanilla Reload the night it happened. We were able to recover $1,000 back onto two cards. We also submitted a dispute form. We have not heard back from them.
We have contacted the police and have filed a police report. They do not have high hopes that money will be recovered.
We’ve filed reports with IRS, FTC, the National Treasury, Bank of America & the District Attorney.
We’re learning more and more about this scam. It’s been effecting many Americans around the nation. It is very prevalent during tax season. We do no know how these scammers got Keith’s information but they contacted him a day after we filed our taxes. So that can be related.
Thank you so much for donating and spreading the word. We appreciate your tweets & sharing on Facebook. Anything helps.