Just a few days ago the IRS began warning taxpayers to be careful and stay alert during tax season as their personal information and bank accounts may not be secure. Taxpayers may receive fake phone calls informing them that they’ve filed an erroneous refund that must be returned. Within a short period of time, the number of victims of this scam grew from hundreds to thousands.
Hackers breached multiple computers with sensitive data, got access to individual bank account details and social security numbers and submitted false tax documents requesting tax refunds. When individuals receive the refund, scammers then call the victim to inform them that the refund was sent by mistake and must be returned. They give instructions on where to send the money and threaten that it must be done as soon as possible. The IRS also noted that scammers mostly target tax preparers and might be using phishing or other methods to gain data.
Received an Erroneous Refund? Here’s What You Should Do
If you’ve received an unsolicited call from someone posing as an IRS representative or debt collector, keep your head on a swivel. Ignore questions related to your personal information like banking details or your social security number. Still, if you’ve provided information to a scammer and then discover excess money on your account, stick to the following steps:
If you’ve received a direct deposit, you should:
- Immediately contact the bank or other financial institution where the refund was received
- Ask to return the deposit
- Contact the IRS and explain why the refund was returned
If you received a paper check and didn’t cash it, you should:
- Write VOID on the back of the check (in the endorsement section)
- Send the check to the IRS (check addresses here). It shouldn’t be bended, stapled or paper-clipped
- Attach a note that explains why you’re returning the refund to the IRS.
If you’ve received a paper check and cashed it, you should:
- Send a personal check, money order and other related documents to the IRS immediately (check addresses here)
- Write the following on the documents you’re sending to the IRS: Payment of Erroneous Refund, your TIN (SSN, EIN or ITIN), and tax period
- Write a note explaining why you’re returning the refund
* If you do not have a paper check that you’ve cashed, you should call the IRS and ask an assistant how you can return a refund.
**Take into consideration that repaying an erroneous refund after you’ve cashed the check may result in certain accrued interests, according to the IRS.
Tips for Taxpayers/Tax Preparers to Secure Data
The IRS urges tax preparers to take measures that secure the sensitive data of their clients. Here are some recommendations that might help avoid being scammed:
- Generate strong and unique passwords (you may use special programs for that)
- If you receive an email with a link or attachment, think twice before opening it. Move the cursor to the link, but do not click it. Check if you recognize the source. If not, just ignore the email.
- If you receive an email from the IRS requesting your personal information, call them by phone and make sure the email has not been sent by scammers.
- Use special services that defend against phishing, viruses, and malware.
- Forward any tax-related emails that look suspicious to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call the IRS for free:
- Individuals: 800-829-1040
- Businesses: 800-829-4933