**Originally published February 27, 2018. Updated December 16, 2019.**
In a new wrinkle to an old scam, con artists are now targeting tax preparers to gain access to consumer information. During National Tax Security Awareness Week in December, the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) recommended tax professionals review their required information security program to safeguard consumers against identity theft. According to a recent warning from the nation’s tax collection agency, the number of potential victims has grown from a few hundred to several thousand in a matter of days.
The most common tax scam in recent years has been when a scammer steals personal information, like a W-2 or Social Security number, and files a fake tax return on the victim’s behalf. However, the new twist we’re now seeing is that fraudsters are allowing refund money to deposit into a taxpayer’s account before they pounce.
Identity thieves are stealing client data from tax preparers through phishing schemes. This sensitive information reveals the exact refund amount that the clients have received, along with bank account numbers, income, dependents, Social Security numbers, and more. After a taxpayer’s refund is direct deposited into their account, these criminals attempt to steal it in one of two ways.
In one scenario, scammers pose as IRS debt collectors and tell the taxpayer that the deposit was made in error. They then provide an account number for the victim to forfeit a portion of, or their entire refund. When taxpayers question the authenticity of the call, the fraudster will threaten to blacklist their Social Security number or bring criminal charges against the consumer for tax fraud.
The other way this tax scam is being perpetrated is through automated calls to reach more potential victims while pretending to be from the IRS. The recording will also threaten taxpayers with the consequences of not paying up and provide a call-back number to return their refund.
Both scenarios have been effective because they threaten consumers with tax fraud and legal action, and the scammers can prove they’re “real” by reading off the victim’s actual personal information and refund amounts.
Tax scammers seem to get more and more creative each year, but it’s important for consumers to know that the IRS will never contact you via telephone or email. It’s equally important for tax preparers to step up their cybersecurity and identity theft protocols each year to combat these fraudsters from gaining access to their systems.
If you believe you have been a victim of tax fraud, here’s what you have to do.
Are you worried about Tax Scams?
Now is the time to begin your tax preparations and protect yourself, your friends and family from identity theft. Follow these 5 tips to guard against tax scams and help secure your refund.