A simple scam -- people claiming to be IRS agents or law enforcement calls someone and tells them they owe taxes -- has cost victims at least $50 million.
Reports of such IRS scams have jumped, but the I-Team spoke to Mary Jo Cain-Reis, south suburban Orland Park woman who is fighting back.
The fake phone calls sometimes threaten legal action against the victim. The phone number may even look like it's from Washington, D.C., but the scammers are actually overseas, using phone "spoofing" technology.
"The guy tells me I'm tax deficient. I'm going to jail, I'm going to serve six months in jail. I'm like, 'What? Excuse me? I know I paid my taxes,'" Cain-Reis said of a call she received from someone alleging they were from the IRS.
Then, she recorded the conversations.
"You have to buy a Target tax voucher for the amount of $5,600," the scammer told her.
He then clarifies that he wants her to pay those back taxes with a Target gift card.
Cain-Reis plays along, calling back an hour later saying she bought it.
The man, who identified himself as investigative officer Charles Hendrix, tells her to give him the numbers on the gift card.
She never gave him the numbers because she never bought the card.
But somehow, he knew her address. He said she would get a special delivery of paperwork, clearing her name.
"It will be sent to you by tomorrow morning. One of the revenue officers and the deputy sheriff will be coming to your place," the IRS scammer told Cain-Reis.
Cain-Reis said she recorded the conversations to help others.
"I want to save some other people some money. I think that this man will be successful," she said.
So why didn't she hand over the money?
"Obviously, I knew that I didn't owe them money. I've always paid my taxes. Further, who pays their taxes with a Target card? Nobody. Give me a break," Cain-Reis said.
Since October 2013, 1.6 million people have reported these calls --- 9,000 of them fell victim to the scam, handing over $50 million, according to the IRS.
In fact, those financial losses have almost doubled since January.
"It works when people are not informed about what they may or may not owe. And again, IRS will never ask a taxpayer to pay tax liability over the phone, by cash, by prepaid debit, by wire transfer," said James Robnett, special agent in charge at the IRS Criminal Investigations Division.
Just last week, local police in Mumbai in India arrested 70 people, who are accused of cheating thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars by posing as U.S. tax authorities. In January, the I-Team reported a story about a Schaumburg woman who was terrified by threats and convinced into handing over $10,000.
The IRS and the U.S. Department of Treasury said that despite the low chances of catching these international crooks, you should still report calls to them and your local police department.
Even though Cain-Reis recorded her calls, the IRS said the best way to fight back is to just hang up, immediately
Report an IRS scam by calling 1-800-366-4484 or visiting https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/scammers-continuing-pose-irs-agents.
Woman targeted by IRS scammer fights back
ABC7 I-TEAM INVESTIGATION