More than 1,000 North Carolina residents have reported receiving collection calls from an electronic message system that claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's office reports that the calls attempt to scare people into paying by threatening legal action. The calls apparently originate from either Jamaica or Canada.  

A total of 1,043 consumers reported these calls to the AG's Consumer Protection Division last year, up from 39 reports in 2013. Of the 2014 total, the AG's office heard from 22 consumers who lost a combined $98,703 as a result of the fraudulent calls. Another 12 consumers would have lost nearly $40,000 but called the AG's office for help before following through to pay the money.

The scam starts with a call from someone who claims to be with the IRS or U.S. Treasury Department, demanding payment for unpaid taxes and threatening arrest if a payment is not quickly made.

In some cases, the scammers call back posing as local law enforcement officers prepared to arrest the caller if the phony tax bill isn’t paid. Caller ID is commonly manipulated by the scammers to make it appear the calls originate from a real government agency.

Consumers receiving the calls report that they are told to pay via a reloadable debit card such as a Green Dot MoneyPak card. Victims purchase the card, load it with funds and then call the phony tax collector back to provide the information needed to access the money.

"If you get a call saying you could be arrested if you don’t pay taxes right away, don’t fall for it. Hang up the phone and report the call to us," Cooper said. "These crooks can be very convincing, very clever and very hard to catch."

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