The Internal Revenue Service has issued a warning about a tax return scam that could affect millions this year.
After stealing the data from tax professionals, criminals could have your bank account number if you requested direct deposit of a refund earlier. Then the real fun starts. Victims are then contacted by the crooks, posing as debt collectors, and telling them the money needs to be returned to a collection agency.
I can imagine how easy it is to panic and fall victim to this scam.
"You need to return the money - just not to them", Smith said.
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"It is definitely a nationwide problem", says IRS spokesperson Cecilia Barreda.
A phone number from Washington, DC, called me and left a voicemail when I didn't answer.
Scammers file a fake tax return with stolen personal information, like your Social Security number, and then use actual bank account information to have the refund deposited into your own account.
As you discovered, scam artists also are sending emails that look like official IRS correspondence asking for your bank account information to directly deposit your refund. They instruct the victim how to repay the money to the "collection agency", and capitalize on the perceived urgency of receiving a call from a collection bureau.
Or a robocall claims to be from the IRS and threatens the person with an arrest warrant unless refund money is turned over. You should include a note explaining why you're returning the refund.
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"One of the reasons this scam has been successful is because it deviates from other scams in the initial victim contact", says Crane Hassold, a threat intelligence manager at the security firm PhishLabs, who previously worked as a digital behavior analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
If you feel you have been targeted by the scam, you are urged to call the IRS immediately. A call to discuss taxes owed would always be preceded by multiple paper bills, and the opportunity to appeal the amount owed. The IRS doesn't initiate contact by phone or email.
If you receive an unexpected and suspicious email from the IRS, forward it to email@example.com.
If the fraudulent refund was direct deposited into your bank account, contact the "Automated Clearing House" (ACH) department of your financial institution.
Analysts see at least some good in these scam evolutions, because they mean that the steps the IRS has taken to reduce fraud are working, forcing criminals to find new hustles.
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