NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla.- A woman is out $19,500 after falling victim to ruthless scam artists.
“I felt violated, I felt low, I just felt sick,” said the victim.
The 69-year old woman fell victim to an IRS scam that Lee County authorities say is a national problem.
“I fell because they are so intimidating. So many people do fall for it.”
Monday morning, the victim received a call from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service. When she returned the message, the scammer told her she owed $5,450 in back taxes from 2010-2014, and if she didn’t pay in twenty minutes, she would be arrested.
“I was sick. I was scared. I panicked. My heart was beating really fast and I couldn’t believe it,” said the victim.
So she called them back and the man on the other line was extremely rude and demanding, ordering her to withdraw thousands of dollars and buy numerous prepaid money cards from Wal-Mart.
“So I said ‘I will pay it,’ because I wanted to correct it. I didn’t want to go to jail.”
The victim then received a second phone call saying she had issues with her 2008-2010 tax returns, and would need to pay another $14,500 via wire transfer to avoid arrest. This time, she used her retirement savings to pay the fraudster. Authorities say she was asked to take a picture of her drivers license and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It is very, very, very difficult to trace,” said Beth Schell, a fraud specialist with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Schell says there is little authorities can do to track down the crooks. Southwest Florida residents receive hundreds of calls each month targeted by the same scam.
“Federal authorities say about $15 million has been given to these scammers and this scam and it just doesn’t slow down,” said Schell.
“I will never get my money back and they won’t be caught, but I don’t want anybody to ever go through this,” said the victim.
If you received a similar call, or if you have sent money to a scammer, contact the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line at 239-258-3292. You can also report the incident to the TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) at 800-366-4484, or file an online complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.