Tax season always seems to bring out the scammers, and this year is no exception. The IRS is warning Americans about a new scheme that identity thieves are using to steal fraudulent tax refunds. It’s a sophisticated scam that builds on the tactics used in previous years.

Scammers start by hacking into databases and stealing taxpayers’ personal information, including their bank account details and Social Security numbers, then they file fraudulent tax returns in those taxpayers’ names. When the IRS issues a refund for one of these false returns, the money gets deposited in the victim’s real bank account.  

The scammers’ ultimate goal is to get the affected taxpayers to transfer them the money from the fraudulent tax returns. The IRS reports that the thieves have used various tactics to accomplish this. Some have called taxpayers, pretending to work for the IRS or from a debt collection agency working for the IRS. They demand that the taxpayers forward the money to the collection agency. Scammers have also left voicemails that threaten taxpayers with arrest if they don’t follow instructions for “returning” the money.

As we get further into tax season, and as more Americans learn about this scam, we can expect these criminals to adjust their tactics and invent new strategies. If you’re targeted by this scam, take steps to protect yourself. Contact your bank to talk about how to close your compromised bank account. Because the scam involves stealing Social Security numbers, you may also want to file a fraud alert with the credit bureaus.

The IRS will also expect you to return the fraudulent tax refund. How you’ll do that depends on whether the money was deposited into your bank account or if you were issued a paper check. As soon as you realize that you’ve received a tax refund you didn’t expect, call our office. We can help you determine how to proceed. It’s also important to call Sharkansky because filing your own taxes will be a little more complicated if scammers have already filed using your Social Security number.

It may not be possible to protect yourself from falling victim to this scam, especially if the thieves have already accessed your personal information. But you can minimize any damage by being vigilant about responding to communication from anyone claiming to represent the IRS. Remember, the IRS will never initiate contact about your account via email, phone or over social media. If you get a message through any of those means, it’s probably a scam. Call Sharkansky before you respond.