Metro Detroit residents are the target of an IRS phone scam that Canton Township police call "very prevalent."
The Troy Police Department issued its own warning on April 2. The most recent victim is a 66-year-old woman from Canton Township who spoke to Ruth to the Rescue about her ordeal.
Mary didn't want to share her last name or show her face, but she wanted her voice to be heard.
"I lost some money. I'm afraid there's going to be somebody else out there even more vulnerable than myself who might get taken for everything that they have," she said.
She said someone called claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service and told her she was being audited. She was told that if she didn't pay $4,900 immediately, officers would go to her house with a warrant for her arrest.
"You think that the guys are going to show up at your front door with handcuffs and take you away," she said.
The caller instructed Mary to drive to the store and purchase Green Dot MoneyPak cards. Then, she was told to read the code on the back of the card to the caller. The caller remained on the phone line while she traveled to the store.
After Mary sent the $4,900 she was asked to send an additional $5,000. That's when she suspected she was being scammed and hung up the phone.
As tears filled her eyes, Mary said she hoped her story would help someone else.
"So, hopefully some good will come from my experience yesterday. It just makes you feel so vulnerable, so stupid," she said.
Luis Garcia of the Internal Revenue Service told Ruth to the Rescue the government agency never collects on a Green Dot credit card or wire transfer. The IRS also never demands immediate payment from anyone.
What to look for
Canton Township police said the caller ID sometimes displays as "IRS, Washington D.C." In some instances, a second phone call will follow with "Canton Police Department" displayed on the caller ID.
"Criminals are altering caller ID displays to read out as IRS, or Canton Police Department, bringing a believability factor to what citizens might otherwise recognize immediately as a scam phone call," said Special Services Lt. Craig Wilsher.
"The most important thing to remember if you receive a phone call from someone representing themselves as IRS or local law enforcement is that neither would ask for your personal information over the phone. Nor would they request a tax payment (or any payment) in the form of a wire transfer or pre-paid debit card," Wilsher said.
Canton police say victims are reporting threats of license suspension, arrest and deportation unless they pay the caller immediately.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or DTE Energy, hang up and call your local police department or the business directly.
About MoneyPak cards
Melanie Duquesnel, the CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, told us that Green Dot cards were established for legitimate uses to take cash and turn it into digital currency.
Duquesnel says like money orders or wire transfers, scam artists have latched onto these MoneyPaks as a quick, easy way to steal your money.
"Once that money is retrieved or picked up its gone!" she told Ruth to the Rescue.
She also has this warning:
"I don't think there's any legitimate reason that somebody unsolicited by you, you have not engaged that firm, and they call you out of the blue and say put this money on a green dot card and everything's going to be wonderful. That's your hugest red flag to say no thank you."
Ruth to the Rescue's Rules
Here are three things to remember so that you can avoid many of the scams that make the rounds.
1) No legitimate business is going to call you and pressure you to pay with Green Dot MoneyPak or any other method of payment that's difficult to trace.
2) If someone calls from the IRS, DTE, or any business, get as much information as you can and tell them you will call them back. Then, hang up.
3) Call a number that you know to be valid for that business and see if there really is a problem. Most of the time, there is no problem and you will avoid being scammed.