|It's a scheme that has terrorized countless people. But the Drug Enforcement Administration has no idea how many victims there really are because people don't always report what's happened, or even realize they have been scammed.
In one case a woman committed suicide because she was so frightened and guilt-ridden. A suburban Chicago family is grateful they uncovered the fraud in time.
"He just kept threatening me saying he was going to have me arrested," scam victim Andrea said.
It was a phone call that left 23 year-old Andrea from the Chicago suburbs shaking with fear. A call she returned after getting a voicemail from a man who said he was from the Baltimore office of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The man aggressively accused Andrea of illegally purchasing weight loss drugs on line, something she says she never did.
"He just kept saying you did purchase it, you did purchase it, I said I don't have any idea what you are talking about," Andrea said.
Her father, Jesse, took the phone and the agent ratcheted up the threats.
"He said I can get somebody there in about ten minutes to pick her. I'm starting panic now and I said please, wait what are you talking about?" Jesse said.
It's a scam the DEA says is targeting people across the country.
"They are really banking on the fact that they can instill fear in the victim that they violated federal law," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Jack Riley.
The fake DEA agents seem to be operating out of the Dominican Republic. A recent indictment accused 11 individuals of extorting money from people by saying they faced imminent arrest if they did not pay a fine. The scam often involves the purchase of prescription drugs on line.
One victim sent a dozen wire transfers totaling more than $29,000 to keep from being arrested.
"Clearly no DEA agent will ever call the public and ask for money," Riley said.
For Jesse and Andrea, the agent sounded very convincing.
"He was going to have somebody come to my house and arrest me, so I figured was already sending someone, they were like right outside and there was going to be somebody waiting for me. I kept looking out the window and I was thinking to myself well, where's this person at, to arrest me?" Andrea said.
A check of the toll free number Andrea was given to call traced to a medical office in Salem, Oregon. But when we called it, the answering machine made it clear the scam was still in operation.
In Jesse's case, the agent suggested there was a way to make the whole thing go away, but the call dropped out and phony agent never called back.
"I was hoping that he meant that I could pay a fine or I could pay something to the effect that would kind of take care of the matter and it never dawned on me that it would be a scam," Jesse said.
Jesse and Andrea never lost any money and never heard back from the fake agents. The DEA has this word of caution for anyone who gets a call like they did.
"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and does not sound right, hang up and call us immediately, because you're dealing with some bad people," Riley said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says the people behind these scams are very hard to track down, as they move from country to country.
They have set up a hotline for people to report these calls at 1-877-792-2873.
Another TV station also investigating the DEA Scams
It's a frightening scam for victims: Several Central Florida families who bought prescription drugs online were being threatened with jail unless they paid fines, but it was all a scam, Action 9 learned.
The first phone call left Linda Muhn panicked.
"At first, I didn't know if it was real or not," Muhn said.
On her voice mail, a man claiming to be with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency left a message claiming to be Special Agent Anthony Costello. The man said an online prescription drug order had been seized with Muhn’s name on it.
Muhn said she and her husband called back, and the so-called agent said the purchase was illegal and Muhn had to pay a $1,800 fine through Western Union.
"If I didn't come up with the money, there was going to be a warrant out for my arrest, and there would be DEA agents at my front door," said Muhn.
The first call to their home came a year ago, and the calls have never stopped, she said.
Action 9 found at least five other Central Florida families who were also threatened. One woman even hired an attorney.
"She absolutely thought she was going to be arrested," said attorney Chalon Young.
Young told her client it was a scam and to call police. She said she thinks the threatening call was terrifying, because her client actually had bought online prescriptions.
"Somehow, they had a record of her purchases four years ago, so I'm sure it made that more believable," said Young.
Investigators think scammers use phony pharmacy websites to find new victims, or they buy the sales information from other online pharmacies that went out of business.
Muhn said she was going to pay the alleged fine before her husband stopped her.
"I did believe him and thought maybe I did do something wrong,” said Muhn.
The real DEA has issued arrest warrants for 11 people they think ran the scam in the Dominican Republic. The DEA said legitimate online pharmacies are registered with the agency.