Don’t Fall For This New IRS Tax Refund Scam

Tax season is underway, and unfortunately, so are the scams.

In late January, the Federal Trade Commission alerted consumers that scammers are now sending emails and texts about a “tax refund” or a “tax refund e-statement.”

The scammer email may look legitimate with the real IRS emblem. It will tell you to check on your “tax refund e-statement” or “fill out a form to get your refund.” But once you click the link, a scammer could steal your personal information like your identity, or could even install malware on your device.

Minnie Sage, the program director of Tax-Aid, a nonprofit that provides free tax services to the San Francisco Bay Area, said one of her program’s clients recently got such an email. In the email, the bad actor said that the client’s refund would be held up until they received a clarification, and the client needed to click a link.

“They even have the IRS logo, they make it seem like they’re trying to help,” Sage said about the IRS impersonator’s message.

“While there have been many different IRS scams, mainly where fraudsters use the phone to call their victims to obtain sensitive data, this scam is somewhat new,” said Kemberley Washington, a New Orleans-based certified public accountant and former IRS agent.

“I do believe with the growing use of technology and social media, some people are falling for these scams because they believe that many organizations like the IRS are communicating via nontraditional ways,” Washington said.

The biggest sign of an IRS scam is a message sent by email or text.

The biggest red flag of a suspicious IRS scam is in how the message got delivered to you. The IRS usually contacts taxpayers through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. In some cases like an overdue tax bill, or an unfiled tax return, the agency will call you.

“People should know that the IRS won’t ever send you a text message or email requesting information about your tax refund,” Washington said. “If you receive this type of communication, you shouldn’t click on any links within the message.”

As the IRS states clearly on its website, “The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by email, text or social media regarding a bill or tax refund.”

If this IRS scammer is asking you to pay via a gift card, that’s another red flag, because “the IRS will never ask for payment via gift card,” Sage said.

If you see an IRS scam, report it.

If you do receive a fraudulent message, report it to the IRS by emailing phishing@irs.gov. In your report, include a copy of the suspicious message, the email address or phone number used to scam you, the date you got the email, the time zone and the number that received the message. You can also file a consumer complaint to your local attorney general’s office.

If you your tax data may have been compromised because you got fooled, you can report client data theft to your local stakeholder liaison.

There is a better way to track your refund and to safeguard your tax account.

There are legitimate ways to track what’s happening with your taxes. Washington said she urges people to create an online account with the IRS to get the most up-to-date information concerning their taxes.

If you want to add another layer of security, get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). It’s a six-digit number that is valid for one calendar year, and it prevents someone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

And if you would like to know the status of your tax refund, you don’t need to rely on someone telling you –– you can use an IRS tool called “Where’s My Refund?” to track your refund status. The IRS said your refund status will usually appear within 48 hours after e-filing.

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