When Ivy League-educated journalist Lisa Bennett, who has covered scams among other money-related topics, got a call from the IRS earlier this year, she was told she owed $5,347 in back taxes and that the police were coming to get her. Her first reaction was relatively logical—"That’s ridiculous," she said, "I never received any notices." But as she writes for Narratively, she quickly spiraled into self-doubt as the man on the phone told her she was about to be arrested. Bennett had all the education to ask the right questions to rule out a possible hoax. She confirmed the supposed "officer" had her correct address, but when she asked for her social security number he said he couldn't say it over the phone. But she had recently received notice that she owed $700 in back taxes for unreported income in 2013, and worried she was in the wrong again.
Fortunately she managed to get a hold of her kids' other mom, who called the police and someone at her bank, before dismissing the call altogether, but many Americans are not so fortunate. The IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scam has targeted 400,000 people since it began in 2013, and has successfully conned more than 3,000 people out of thousands each, totaling $15.5 million. Who seems most vulnerable? Law-abiding citizens baffled by the IRS. "I usually do my own taxes, and I am never completely confident that I get it right," Bennett writes. "Throughout my hour-long ordeal I was very aware that it could be a scam, and that there were many things that didn’t make sense. Yet I was also deeply afraid that it could be true"—and the scam preys on those fears, which is why it's so successful. Click for Bennett's full story. (Read more IRS stories.)