TUPPER LAKE - One man's misfortune is another man's livelihood, as a bold scammer explained to an Enterprise reporter Friday.
Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun became suspicious when he received five threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service.
The caller said Maroun owed $1,284.67 to the IRS and told him he would be arrested if he didn't hand over the money. The caller also said a lien could be placed on Maroun's house and all of his personal property.
"If you didn't know any better, you would write a check," Maroun said. "I'm concerned about the average senior citizen, or somebody who doesn't want to go to court because they're worried about legal fees and things like that."
The number on Maroun's caller ID was 202-239-6652, so he returned the call and immediately knew it was a scam.
"Number one, they told me they were going to take me into local court," Maroun said. "The IRS is federal, so it would go into a federal court. Number two, when they asked that they had to see my Social Security number or my driver's license, they said they could have a man in my office in 15 minutes. That's not the way the IRS does things."
The caller also claimed that letters were mailed to his home, which wasn't true.
The Enterprise called the number Friday morning to find out who the caller was.
The first man who answered didn't give his name and quickly transferred the call to another individual when asked what his affiliation with the IRS was. The second man who answered gave the name Roy Cage and said he held the cumbersome title of "investigation chief of the CI crime investigation division of the Department of Justice."
Cage, as the Enterprise will call him in this story, began to say he worked for the IRS, and then he quickly shifted gears.
"I respect your position, but you are working with the country, OK, and you might have worked hard to get this labor," Cage said. "I just want to tell you that, yes, we are scammers."
When asked if the name he gave was a fake, Cage laughed and admitted it was. He declined to give his real name and said Roy Cage is one of many aliases he uses. Another favorite, one he called his "lucky name," is Jack Anderson.
Cage explained that scamming is his business, and his business is booming. He said it was odd that Maroun was only asked for $1,200. Normally, the pitch is for $4,000 to $5,000.
"If you will get a chance in your life to get this kind of, bunch of money, right, I know that being a human, you're never going to lose that chance," Cage said. "People, if you are authorized to do your work, you may go ahead and do that. But this is my work, and I'm never going to stop it. Tell your government, tell your FBI, to find me. That's never going to be the issue with me."
Cage, who displayed arrogance and a forthright manner, said he operates outside of the U.S., in a country he would not specify. He said he is free from prosecution there.
The inherently amoral nature of his work had no apparent bearing on his conscience. In his mind, there is a clear distinction between scamming and stealing.
"Obviously, we are taking advantage of people," Cage said. "There is no mercy, though. I never feel bad. We never take the unauthorized money. We can't just take it from them; they have to give it to us. This is our business. We don't do anything except doing this. This is all for us, and everything for us."
After openly admitting that deceiving people is his life's work, Cage said there is a virtuous side to what he does. He claimed his scamming operation donates 20 to 30 percent of its monthly profits to charities in his country that help animals, the elderly and the poor. Cage said his organization also runs a non-governmental organization.
"What I believe is, I'm getting totally the wrong money, right?" Cage said. "Somewhere, somehow, the people have been conned into giving me the money. If I am getting this kind of money, in the easiest way, then why would I not help the people or the animals who are helpless? I believe in God, and this would not be fair if I used all of this money for my enjoyment."
Cage wouldn't say how many scammers he employs, but he did say his workers are constantly trained on new ways to target people. Perhaps most disconcerting is the training on how to delve into a potential victim's bank account to see how much money is there.
Since most people are reluctant to part with their money, Cage's scammers threaten their victims with legal action. The threats are idle, but not everyone realizes that.
"We are just telling them that, if you want to save yourself, if you do not want to be arrested, if you do not want to get your family in any kind of trouble, you give us the money," Cage said. "I'm telling you the tricks, but the day after tomorrow, or maybe by this noon or tomorrow morning, this could be in the news, right? But don't worry about me. I have more than several ways to get the money from them, so I never worry about that."
Tupper Lake village police Chief Eric Proulx said scams like the one Maroun reported are common. He said there isn't much police can do unless money changes hands, but he still advised everyone to report scams to them.
"If we get enough reports, we can try to track down where the calls are coming from," Proulx said. "If you get a call from someone threatening you with arrest, or asset seizure, or anything like that, you should ignore it and contact local police. If people are really concerned, they should contact their credit reporting agency and make sure everything there is accurate, and nothing appears fraudulent in their credit reports."
Proulx said last week people were calling him about a bank text-message scam, and next week it'll probably be something different. He said a good safeguard is to directly contact the organization the correspondence is claiming to originate from. That means don't give out personal information to the caller. Instead, contact the bank directly and ask them if it did, in fact, contact you. The same goes for the IRS or any other organization a caller claims to be from.
Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.