HOUMA, LA (WVUE) - Fake IRS agents call victims and claim they owe taxes. They demand payment and threaten to arrest you if you don't pay up immediately. It's one of the largest scams out there ahead of the April 15 filing deadline, and it's hurting people financially, physically and emotionally.
"I was frantic. I was crying. I was nervous. I was upset. I almost couldn't hold the phone because I was shaking. I never wanna go through that again," Lee Ann LeRay said.
The Houma resident describes the frightening call she received on her cell phone. "They said they were the IRS calling," LeRay said.
She says the man on the other end, calling from a Washington D.C. area code, claimed she owed a lot of money - between $6,000 and $8,000 in back taxes, and she said the man demanded she pay immediately through a wire transfer.
"I think what really started scaring me was when they said they had a warrant out for my arrest, and if I didn't send the money to them, that someone was gonna be knocking at my door within the next hour or two and putting me in handcuffs and bringing me to jail," LeRay said. She told the FOX 8 Defenders she knew it couldn't be right, but explained that the caller sounded stern, intimidating and official.
"They were giving me names and their badges - supposed badge numbers," LeRay said.
Just as the caller was about to give her wire instructions, LeRay says they got disconnected. "I think if I wouldn't have gotten disconnected and thought to call my husband to come home from work, I probably would have fallen through all the way and sending the money," LeRay said.
LeRay's husband, Eddie, told FOX 8 he recognized the call was an IRS scam recalling a FOX 8 Defenders report last year where Gloria Theyard of New Orleans East received a similar threatening call.
"I went with my pajamas on, my pajama top and a coat to IRS, that's how frightened I was because they said, we on our way. We know where you are right now," Theyard said.
IRS.gov warns of the impersonation telephone scam. The agency says the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment. They also won't require you to use a specific method of payment such as a wire transfer or pre-paid debit card. It will give you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe, and the IRS stresses it will never threaten you with police or arrest for not paying.
During recent congressional meetings, a federal official testified there have been more than 360,000 of these calls, estimates of $15.5 million in payments, and one case even resulted in the suicide of a scared victim. Investigators are not just targeting those making the calls but the people processing the money.
LeRay says they filed a police report with the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, then went straight to her cell phone provider. "We had to totally change my cell phone number," she said.
She didn't fall for the scam, but in her mind, she's still a victim after all the stress and inconvenience it has caused.
If you get a call like this, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says hang up the phone. It warns that criminals often can make it appear as though the calls originate from D.C., when in reality they're coming from outside the country.
If you have a consumer complaint, call the FOX 8 Defenders, staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women, or fill out our online complaint form.