WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — A phone scammer pretending to be an Internal Revenue Service agent swindled an undisclosed amount of cash from two Big Acai restaurants Saturday. The scam forced the restaurants to close for the day, and Big Acai owner Lanette Byers does not expect to recover the money taken in the heist.
“The money is just gone,” Byers said. “I can’t even explain the range of emotions I went through. You feel shock, you feel empathy, you feel anger. You feel everything all at once.”
Byers said teenage employees at the Valley Junction and Pella locations of Big Acai picked up the phone and followed the scammer’s orders.
“I can’t reveal how much was lost,” Byers said. “It was a lot, and I don’t want to disclose how much is ever maintained. It was significant.”
The scammer told both employees that the restaurant needed to immediately pay off a debt from the IRS. The fake IRS agent told the employees to empty the restaurant’s cash register and safe, convert the money into prepaid cards, and wire the money through the phone by sharing the card numbers.
“They had a very real fear that they must comply,” Byers said. “They wouldn’t let the Pella employee off the phone…they kept her on the phone for two and a half hours.”
Authorities have not discovered who was responsible for the phone call.
Tax scams are prevalent this time of year, and the IRS has taken notice. The agency will never call someone to demand a payment and does not send messages through e-mail, text message, or social media.
Byers shut down Big Acai after the scams Saturday, but the restaurants reopened for business on Sunday. She said this is an opportunity to warn other business owners about the scam.
“If anybody is telling you, ‘You can’t tell anyone about this–your boss, your parent, your supervisor–and you must give me money right now,’ no matter who they say they are, that is a scam,” Byers said.