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Southwest Florida targeted by IRS impostors

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Intimidating phone calls have thousands of people falling for a scam. Criminals impersonating IRS Agents are threatening people with court and even jail if they don’t pay up.

The scam is happening in Southwest Florida. Several people have e-mailed WINK News asking for help. One viewer recorded the call. Florean Tipton says she’s gotten the calls twice a day since Monday.

She thought right away it was a scam, but after they kept calling back she thought it might be the real deal. The call appears to come from a 202 area code, which is Washington, DC. However, scammers are able to alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. In most cases, the IRS believes the callers are outside the U.S.

The caller left Tipton a voicemail saying it was urgent and to call back right away before the case is “loaded into the courthouse.” At the end of the recording, the caller says “goodby and God bless you.”

Tipton and her husband, who have never filed late or missed a payment, knew it was a red flag.

“So many people use that to get the trust from people and the IRS is not going to do that,” said Tipton.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has received 50 calls about this scam in just the last month. Fraud specialist Beth Schell believes the number is closer to 500 for the last six month.

“I can assure you that the IRS is not going to call you and tell you that you’re going to be arrested. It doesn’t work that way,” said Schell.

The IRS will also never ask you for money over the phone.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received reports from close to 290,000 people since October 2013. An estimated 3,000 people have become victims paying out over $14 million as a result of this scam.

In Tipton’s case, she called the number back and hasn’t heard from the scammer since. However, experts say that’s risky.

“We don’t encourage people to get into a debate with them or try to scam them, because they actually see that as a challenge and the best thing to do is just hang up,” Schell said.

Call the Fraud Hotline

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be the IRS, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office asks you to report it to their Fraud Hotline at (239) 258-3293 so they can track the scam locally.

File an online complaint

Anyone who thinks they may have been a target should report it to the Federal Trade Commission here.

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