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IRS Warns Taxpayers about 'Pervasive' Fraud Schemes

Agency urges tax preparers to be on high alert due to spate of data breaches

Video courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service

As Americans gear up to file their income taxes, they should be alert to a surge in fake emails, bogus texts and phony websites aimed at stealing personal information, the Internal Revenue Service says.

“These attacks tend to increase during tax season” the agency says, and put people in danger of identity theft.

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The IRS has a special warning for tax preparers, urging that they be on “high alert” for “unusual activity” after numerous data breaches in the U.S. Although the agency did not highlight a specific breach, Marriott International, eBay, Equifax and numerous other firms have been hit in recent years.

Criminals increasingly target tax professionals by deploying “pervasive” phishing emails in a bid to access data from their taxpayer-clients, the IRS says. "Phishing" involves emails that purport to be from reputable senders but are not; the correspondence tries to compel people to release sensitive information, such as credit card numbers.

Thieves may use stolen data to impersonate taxpayers and file fraudulent tax returns for refunds, the IRS says. Chuck Rettig, the IRS commissioner, had these tips:

  • Watch out for emails and other scams involving people posing as IRS employees, promising big refunds or even threatening people.
  • If an email is suspicious, do not open attachments or click on links in the text.
  • If taxpayers, including businesses, receive a phishing email, they should report it to
"Taxpayers should be on constant guard for these phishing schemes, which can be tricky and cleverly disguised to look like it's the IRS."

— Chuck Rettig, IRS commissioner

One scheme can begin when a taxpayer’s data is stolen, the IRS says. Next, a criminal files a false tax return in the taxpayer’s name and directs the refund to the taxpayer’s bank account. Then the bad actors use various tactics to reclaim the refund, including falsely claiming to be from a collection agency or the IRS.

Here’s IRS guidance on what to do if you see an erroneous deposit in your bank account.

The IRS warnings came Monday as it began to roll out its annual “Dirty Dozen” campaign to highlight 12 common ways taxpayers are cheated — or try to defraud the tax man.

Here's more about phishing scams and the warning signs.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.