Imagine logging into your bank account and discovering the friendly folks at the Internal Revenue Service just left you a gift of a tax refund without your knowledge. Who wouldn't smile and thank the government for its hard work in helping the working people get a little ahead?
As is often the case when it comes to receiving money out of the blue, this scenario is too good to be true. It's yet another scam played on taxpayers
IRS officials are warning of the scam, which it says is impacting thousands, in which client data is stolen from tax professionals, then used to file fraudulent tax returns — using the taxpayers' real bank accounts for the deposits.
A variety of tactics are then used to reclaim the refund from the taxpayers, according to Special Agent Arlette Lee, a spokeswoman with the IRS.
Those in California are especially at risk to these and other tax scams involving credit card fraud and identity theft, according to Business Insider. California, along with other southwest states such as New Mexico and Arizona, were identified as among the 10 states most at risk.
In one form of the scam, someone posing as a debt-collection agency official acting on behalf of the IRS contacts the taxpayer to say a mistake was made and the refund needs to be forwarded to their agency, Lee said in a news release.
Another version involves the taxpayer receiving an automated call with the recorded voice of a person claiming to be from the IRS threatening criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant and a "blacklisting" of their Social Security number if they don't pay. The recording then provides a case number and a telephone number to call to return the refund.
If these or similar scenarios occur, don't worry about any criminal charges. That's just a scare tactic.
But don't waste any time getting in touch with your bank and tax preparer and notify them of what's happened. Lee said bank accounts may have to be closed due to the scam.
Also, follow the agency's established procedures for returning an erroneous refund.
"Because this is a peak season for filing tax returns, taxpayers who file electronically may find that their tax return will reject because a return bearing their Social Security number is already on file," Lee said in the release. "If that's the case, taxpayers should follow the steps outlined in the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft."
The Kern County Sheriff's Office is also warning residents that thousands of people have lost money in recent years due to tax scams and fake IRS communication through the mail, telephone, fax or email. The IRS, sheriff's officials say, doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media to request personal or financial information.
Some fraudsters call to demand an immediate tax payment through a prepaid debit card, according to the Sheriff's Office. The person claims to be from the IRS and says two certified letters were sent to the taxpayer, but returned as undeliverable. The scammer then threatens arrest if the payment isn't made.
The Sheriff's Office is reminding residents the IRS never does the following:
- Calls to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS mails a bill first if taxes are owed.
- Threatens to immediately bring in law enforcement to have people arrested for not paying.
- Demands that taxes be paid without first giving an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
All scams and frauds can be reported to the Sheriff's Office at 861-3110 or victims can make an online report at www.kernsheriff.org.