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28 Mar 2017
‘Pay now, or the tax office will seize your business’

Businessman Henk fell for the trick of a con artist posing as an internal revenue officer. Henk paid € 8800. “I can’t believe this has happened to me,”  he says.

It’s a busy period for Henk, who is selling his company. Was this why he paid almost 9000 euro to an utter stranger just a few days ago? Henk realizes he has been duped by a scammer. “This is not like me at all,” he says.

Mr Rozenboom, taxman
It all started with a telephone call. “There is nothing serious,” were the words of a tax official introducing himself as Mr Rozenboom. Apparently, Henk had been running arrears and failed to reply to two reminders.

As it happened, Henk recently got in touch with the Netherlands Tax Administration about a charge his company needed to pay. As Henk was about to sell his business, the charge was waived. Now, Henk had the tax people on the line again. “What’s gone wrong?” he wonders.

Henk is fined € 16,000. However, if he pays half the money within two hours, then the rest will be waived. “I felt I had no choice,” Henk sighs. “If I did nothing, they would have seized my company. I wouldn’t have been able to handle that.” The tax official spoke very politely and with no accent. He sounded resolute: Henk must pay, and pay fast.

User credentials
Henk’s son takes care of his finances, so Henk called his son on his second phone and asked him for his user credentials. “Are you sure you can trust this guy, Dad?”, the son asked. But Henk was not listening.

The taxman stayed on the line as Henk tried to log on to his online ABN Amro bank account to send an urgent payment. But the bank’s security system blocked the payment order.

Later, Henk saw on his phone that he had missed a call from the bank. His phone had been engaged, because he had the taxman on the line. Meanwhile, his son got in touch with his brother, who works with a bank. The brother also tried to call his father and texted him: “Stop this. It’s a scam!” The two boys both got into their cars to warn their dad.

Meanwhile, Henk was frustrated that his payment didn’t go through. He tries another bank account, ups his daily limit at ING and sends the full amount in two payments. When the two sons arrive, Henk has just hung up the phone. The money is gone.

Money scams

Scams in which people are forced to make urgent payments are nothing new. But in recent years, the stories have changed. Victims are now put under tremendous pressure by fake debt collectors, tax inspectors or court officials.

In 2016, Fraud Help Desk received 186 reports about scams involving urgent transfers. Collectively, these victims lost € 211,904.

How could this have happened?
“My father always used to say, ‘no one is more honest than the taxman. So with that idea in mind, I decided to pay. I didn’t know if it was all okay. But I thought I would get the money back if it wasn’t.”

The trouble was that Henk didn’t have any tax officer on the phone, but a crook. And he won’t get his money back. And Henk knows as soon as he had hung up. How could he have done this? It’s a question he has asked himself countless times.

The fact is that the caller was an excellent talker who knew exactly how to put up the pressure. He also knew what he was talking about and managed to impress a successful veteran businessman like Henk. Moreover, the scammer was ‘lucky’ that Henk was preoccupied with is business takeover troubles, which influenced his judgement.

Numbed, like an addict
“The prospect of having my business seized had a numbing effect on me,” Henk says, trying to make sense of what happened to him. “I couldn’t think straight anymore. All I thought was: I must avoid seizure, I must. I can now imagine how an addict must feel: fully focused on just one thing.”

Henk had never heard of this type of scam. For this reason, he wants his story to go public. To warn others, make them aware of the danger. “My money is probably gone. People need to know that this is happening, and could well happen to them.”

* Henk is not his real name. This fictitious name has been used to protect the victim’s privacy.