NOEL KING, HOST:
All right. The IRS estimates that taxpayers have lost more than $65 million because of phone scams related to taxes. And, as you might expect, these scams are most common during tax season. Reporter Paige Pfleger got a firsthand look at the scams when her phone rang.
PAIGE PFLEGER, BYLINE: The voice on the other end of the line said he was calling from the Pennsylvania State Police. He rattled off some information about me - my full name, my email address, where I went to college, when I graduated and told me the IRS had a warrant out for my arrest for not paying taxes on my college scholarship. I told him the whole thing sounded fishy, and this was his response.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Can you see my phone number, ma'am, appearing on your cellphone right now?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go and just type in the whole number online and see which office and which department you're speaking to.
PFLEGER: I mean, I'm seeing that that's the Pennsylvania State Police number.
He then told me I could make the whole thing go away by buying Apple gift cards. That's when I realized it was a scam. But not everyone is so lucky.
MICHELLE ALBITZ: If I wanted to get a loan I can't because my credit right now is not that great.
PFLEGER: That's Michelle Albitz of Barto, Pa. She got a credit card cash advance for more than $10,000 last year when she fell victim to a tax scam, and she hasn't been able to pay all of that money back. She got the call while she was at work.
ALBITZ: And it said this was the IRS, I owed money, and if I did not call back this number, the local authorities would be after me.
PFLEGER: Albitz is one of more than 13,000 people in the U.S. who has fallen for a tax scam in the last five years, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. California has the highest number of victims and total dollars lost, and New York and Texas are close behind.
ED WIRTH: A lot of people are afraid of the IRS. And so when you hear those words when someone calls, I think it intimidates a lot of folks on the receiving end of the phone call.
PFLEGER: That's Ed Wirth, a special agent with the criminal investigation division at the IRS. He says that phone scams can be spotted because they come out of nowhere, and the request will seem really urgent, like with my scammer.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So do you want to resolve the matter? This would be right now, right away.
PFLEGER: Often, they'll threaten legal action like arrest or deportation. And they say to make the problem go away, they need personal information or money. My scammer was trying to convince me that a gift card from the Apple store or a grocery store chain was considered a government bond.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you want to resolve the matter, ma'am, you have to go to the government-certified store, the government-certified location. And you have to purchase federal bond for the amount of $7,980.
PFLEGER: Con artists can make any number appear on your caller ID, which is how they made it look like they were calling me from the state police number and how they can even make it look like they're calling from the real IRS number. That can make these scams confusing. But Ed Wirth from the IRS says people just need to remember one simple rule.
WIRTH: If you have not received communication from us via the U.S. mail, we're not going to be calling you.
PFLEGER: He urges people not to let fear of the tax man make you the next victim of a tax scam. For NPR News, I'm Paige Pfleger.
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