The Internal Revenue Service has now issued two separate alerts warning taxpayers about a scam that went from hitting a few hundred victims “to several thousand in just days.”
The scam seems to have taken root after several tax practitioners’ computers were breached earlier this month. The hackers allegedly gained access to client data, including bank account information. The thieves are using the stolen information to file taxes on behalf of the victims. Because they’ve used the victims’ information, the tax return check is either mailed to the victims’ houses or direct deposited into their bank accounts.
“Thieves are then using various tactics to reclaim the refund from the taxpayers, and their versions of the scam may continue to evolve,” according to the IRS statement.
Sometimes, criminals call the victims posing as debt collection agency officials acting on behalf of the IRS. They claim the refund deposited into their account was a mistake and ask the taxpayers to forward the money to their “collection agency.”
Other times, the taxpayer will receive an automated call after the erroneous deposit hits his or her account. A recorded voice says the call is from the IRS and threatens the taxpayer with criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant and a “blacklisting” of their Social Security Number if they don’t call a number to return the refund.
Obviously, taxpayers should not follow the instructions in either phone call. But the victims do need to return the fraudulent tax refund to the IRS, following proper IRS-approved procedure.
“Taxpayers who receive the refunds should follow the steps outlined by Tax Topic Number 161 – Returning an Erroneous Fund,” according to the IRS release. “The tax topic contains full details, including mailing addresses should there be a need to return paper checks. By law, interest may accrue on erroneous refunds.”
Victims may also want to consider closing their bank accounts, since they’ve been accessed by criminals.
The IRS said it’s since called for tax professionals to “step up security of sensitive client tax and financial files.”