A U.S. Senate panel held a hearing Wednesday to find out what's being done to capture and arrest suspects in the ongoing "IRS Phone Scam."
The Department of the Treasury has received more than 400,000 complaints about calls from fake Internal Revenue agents who threaten people with high fines, and even jail time, if they don't pay their debts immediately by phone. So far, American consumers have been duped into handing over more than $15 million.
Orange County fertility nurse Lori Whalen reached out to the I-Team to tell her story, in hopes of saving other people from the same fate. She got the call in February.
"They just had me so frightened," she said. "When you're frightened, I think you'll do anything to make things right."
In Whalen's case, "making things right" meant obeying orders from an IRS impostor to rush to the grocery store and purchase eight prepaid debit cards worth more than $3,800. She said she then read the numbers to the phony agent and hung up, relieved she wouldn't end up behind bars.
It wasn't until the next morning when she spoke to her accountant that she realized she'd been tricked.
"I was embarrassed. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed that I got vandalized like that, that I went for it," she said.
Today, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing in Washington D.C. to find out the latest on the investigation into the calls, which have escalated dramatically in the past year.
Maine Senator Susan Collins, who chairs the committee, said federal investigators need to do more to protect consumers.
"Despite all this harm, it appears the Department of Justice has prosecuted just three IRS impersonator con artists in the country, and these weren't even the criminal masterminds," she said.
Alysa Erichs, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told NBC4 the best way consumers can protect themselves is to be aware of the ongoing fraud.
"Families need to have the conversation that if someone's calling you for money [and says] that you've committed a crime and need to [pay] right away, especially on a loadable prepaid card, that's not how it works," Erichs said. "It's a scam. Call the police."