BEWARE: IRS phone call scam seems legit, but it's not

Chicago’s Better Business Bureau calls it the hottest scam going on right now: phone calls from people posing as IRS agents.

If you've gotten a call from "Eric Johnson" lately, or anyone posing as a threatening agent of the Internal Revenue Service, you're certainly not alone. Investigators say over the past three years, the IRS has received over one million reports of phony calls.

More than five thousand people have been victimized, and Dawn Joseph of Ottawa wasn't about to become one of them.

Joseph got a voice message telling her to call a Colorado phone number about a legal dispute. She returned the call. The man who answered said he was with the IRS, and needed her name and address.

“Then he said, what's your social security number? And I said, if you're the IRS, shouldn't you already know that? Click. He hung up,” Joseph said.

Such callers often warn their intended targets that they owe back taxes and need to pay up, with a debit card, money order or wire transfer. Failure to pay, they say, will lead to criminal charges, deportation, or as suggested in one call, some unknown consequences.

One reason these calls seem so legitimate is that the caller ID is manipulated to display an IRS phone number, or the IRS name itself.

“What’s really is working is the caller ID is spoofed. What I mean by that is they can change the caller ID with a simple computer program to read anything they want,” said Steven Bernas with the BBB of Chicago.

Almost $30-million dollars has been stolen through these phony IRS calls over the last three years. The IRS says don't be fooled, and that they'll never ask for money over the phone.