I knew the calls were a scam.

Like so many, I’ve been getting calls from people pretending to be from the IRS. A few times a week, I get an automated message telling me that I need to call back a number in reference to money I owe.

I called the number once. A man identified himself as an IRS employee. Then he asked a question that was, I guess, meant to frighten me.

“Do you have a criminal defense attorney?”

“No, why?” I asked.

“This is an important matter with the IRS and you need an attorney,” he said.

I told the man I knew this was a scam. He immediately hung up on me.

Before I share my next would-be swindle story, I need to tell you that I sometimes call the number back because I want to see what the scammers are saying to get people to send money. Don’t do what I did. Don’t engage these criminals. If you get one of these calls, hang up immediately.

But this week, I got a call that had me stunned with the brazen and bizarre way the guy tried to con me.

The caller identified himself as Frank Cooper. I checked caller ID and the number came up “Jamaica 1-876-387-5721.” The man first claimed he was calling on behalf of Publishers Clearing House. I had won $2.5 million, he said. Oh, and I would also be getting an S Class Mercedes Benz – “champagne white.”

In an effort to persuade me the prize was real, he even gave me a check number: 5122285365. He told me to repeat the number, which I did as I played along.

By the way, I could hear other scammers in the background spinning a similar tale. Anyway, I was told a “licensed merchant banker” was near my neighborhood ready to hand me my check, which was in a locked briefcase. The caller gave me what he said was the combination code: 4981776. Again, he asked me to repeat the number.

And then came the ruse.

“But you can’t get the money unless you register with the IRS and pay a fee of $8,000,” he said.

“Wait, if this is a prize, why do I have to pay a fee?”

“Ma’am, do you want your money or not?” he said, raising his voice with an indignant tone as if I were the fool. “How do you not know that you must register with the IRS?”

Then he switched his language to appear as if he was actually representing the IRS. I was instructed to withdraw the cash from my bank account, split it into two bundles of $4,000 and put the money in envelopes that I should then wrap in newspaper. Then I should make my way to the nearest FedEx office parking lot and call when I got there to get the address to mail the money overnight express.

“That hardly seems safe,” I said. “What proof do I have that you have received the cash?”

“Get insurance on the mailing,” the guy said.

I clearly was asking too many questions so this Cooper guy put his “general manager Ray Kingston” on the line.

“Are you ready to send the money,” he asked.

Tired of this foolishness and fraud, I said, “Now, you know this is a scam.”

The next thing I heard was a dial tone.

The sad thing is lots of people are falling for schemes like these. In many cases, the scammers threaten people with arrest to try to scare them into paying. Some of the latest scams even ask people to put money on iTunes cards. The IRS would never ask you to pay your taxes using a gift card or prepaid debit cards.

The IRS, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Federal Trade Commission are feverishly trying to get the word out to keep people from falling for these tricks.

The amount of losses in IRS impersonation cases from October 2013 through Aug. 1 amount to $44.5 million involving close to 8,000 victims, according to TIGTA. California ranks first in the number of IRS impersonation scams with 1,404 reported victims who have lost about $8.8 million. Every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have reported people being victimized. And that’s just the reported cases.

“The losses keep mounting despite our best efforts,” a spokeswoman for TIGTA said.

If you get such a call or if you’ve fallen victim, go to www.treasury.gov/tigta. Click the link for “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting.” Or go to ftc.gov/imposters. Become more informed by watching some videos at http://ow.ly/LGyS3039GnS.

I’m sure you work hard for our money. Don’t be fooled by fraudsters.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SingletaryM