SAN ANTONIO – As tax season gets under way, the IRS is warning people to beware about a continued phone scam that uses threats and fear.
Joe Ruiz got one of those calls and message left on his answering machine. He returned the call.
"Immediately, this guy answered, 'This is the IRS. We have a warrant for your arrest,'" Ruiz recalled.
Ruiz, a disabled veteran who served two decades in the Air Force, said the caller told him he owned $2,400 in back taxes and must pay immediately.
"It was scary," Ruiz said. "I could just imagine the police coming to the door and putting handcuffs on me."
Ruiz said the caller was pushy and threatening.
"Right away, it's a warrant for your arrest. You're going to lose your driver's license. Your bank account is going to be confiscated and everything that you have will be gone," Ruiz said he was told.
The scam has been prolific, circulating nationwide for at least three years. Nearly 5,000 people have been tricked out of paying more than $26.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
In the end, Ruiz did not fall for it. He said the caller instructed him to call back on his cellphone and stay on the line while he goes to bank to withdraw cash for delivery.
"I started thinking, 'This is really stinking bad here,'" Ruiz said.
According to the IRS, the agency does not call people and demand immediate payment.
"Sometimes, (fake callers) ask you for a credit card. They'll ask for cash to be sent or a check to be sent, too. No, that's not going to happen that way. We, as the IRS, don't do that," said Troy Caldron, IRS spokesman for criminal investigations.
The IRS also does not call and make threats. If someone does owe taxes, the IRS will first contact them by mail.
If anyone gets one of these intimidating calls, the government's advice is to hang up.
The calls or emails can be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration online at TIGTA.gov.
The Treasury has received nearly one million reports so far.