She's a smart, caring woman.
Those are the impressions I got when I first met Mary.
That's not her real name.
She wants to keep her identity secret right now.
You'll understand why when you hear about her journey across the Valley.
It started with a couple of calls.
Her caller ID showed Scottsdale Police and the IRS.
The caller said there was a warrant out for her arrest from a long overdue, unpaid debt.
"If I didn't show up within 30 minutes there would be a cop car to take me down in handcuffs in jail," Mary says.
But the caller had another plan.
A plan that would send Mary across the Valley.
She got in her car, with her phone, and the caller gave her driving instructions.
"The phone became a robot, hypnotic, telling you where to drive," she says.
Mary was led to stores like Fry's, Safeway and Best Buy.
She would spend $2,000 at one place, $2,500 at another.
She cashed a bond, tapped into savings--anything to make this terrible thing go away.
"In the way your mind copes with the worst situations ever and if you are compliant, you can get to the end." she says.
Each time, at each store, she was buying iTunes cards and then coming back to the car and reading numbers over the phone.
The Federal Trade Commission says iTunes, Amazon and other gift cards are the new way scammers get their money.
They get the numbers and it's like cash in their pocket.
I asked Mary if she ever thought this was a scam.
"You know in your brain that iTunes cards are not required by the IRS to pay off balances. But the threat of being harmed, jailed and have anything you worked for taken away, was too much, " she told me.
These scammers knew her address, spoofed phone numbers to look real, and got their target at a very vulnerable time in her life.
Mary was between jobs.
She tells me she was scared that trouble with the IRS or police would ruin her job chances, her credit, and her reputation.
"It threatened everything that I had worked so hard to keep,' she said.
In the end, Mary drove for nearly five hours.
And she spent more than $15,000.
I asked her how long it would take to get over this.
"I don't think I ever will be the person I was before," she told me.
But weeks after I talked with Mary, she seemed much stronger.
She's working with investigators to trace numbers and catch these bad guys.
Mary knows she should have talked to a friend or family member about the call before getting in her car.
And she warns others who think this could never happen to them.
But what about a parent or grandparent, a friend down the street, or someone vulnerable and going through a bad time.
The IRS doesn't call or threaten to haul you to jail.
If you get a similar call, hang up.
And make sure to keep an eye on friends and loved ones.
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Need my help? Call the Assistance League of Phoenix volunteers at 1-855-323-1515. You can also send me an email or a video email where you attach a video explaining the problem.
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