I Have a Question About This Year’s Tax Scam

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

I get two calls from unknown or “no caller ID” numbers per day, and from my past experience as a telemarketer I can almost visualize the system: call once in the morning, call once in the afternoon, and after a certain number of calls I’ll get dropped off the current list of leads — although I’ll start getting calls again after the current leads have been exhausted.

A few months ago, when I was picking up all my rando calls because I was hoping one of them would be the call to schedule a furniture delivery, I did in fact get the “we’re the FBI and we’re going to arrest you unless you pay us” scam call. Which, like, I knew it was a scam instantly, in part because the actors were stumbling over their script, and in part because OF COURSE IT WAS A SCAM, THE FBI DOES NOT CALL PEOPLE AND ASK FOR MONEY IN EXCHANGE FOR NOT BEING ARRESTED.

Since it’s Tax Season, I’m curious whether any of these “no caller ID” numbers were from people trying to run the IRS scam — and then I read about a new type of IRS scam on Wired:

Here’s how it works: Attackers use a taxpayer’s stolen identity information to fraudulently file their returns for a refund. They allow that refund to direct deposit into the victim’s actual bank account. Then the real fun starts. The scammers—posing as the IRS—call the victim, demanding that they return the wrongfully allocated refunds. Since the victim presumably hasn’t yet filed their own taxes, it’s easy for them to assume a mistake was made—and send their money to the crook.

That’s right. They give you the money, and hope they can trick you into voluntarily passing it along to them.

So… the scammers do your taxes for you? And then send you your refund? I have so many questions about this, starting with what if you just keep the refund?

No, wait. Let’s start this line of questioning a little earlier in the scam process.

How do the scammers get access to our W2s? (I’m assuming they don’t even try this scam on 1099ers, because they have no way of guessing our business expenses or estimated tax payments. Of course they don’t really have a way to guess W2ers’ deductions either. Maybe they always take the standard deduction?)

What tax software do they use? I know from experience that if you try to create a new account with a tax software that already has you registered, they’ll say “nope, you’re already in our system, would you like to try and remember the email account and password you used to sign up with us five years ago?”

Does that mean they’ve stolen our tax software email accounts and passwords? Is that how this scam works, because the tax software already has our SSN and previously filed tax information? (Wired explains that they’re stealing at least some information from accounting firms, which is even weirder.)

Is that also how they get the direct deposit information, or do they steal that separately?

If they do use tax software, aren’t these scam victims getting a bajillion emails from the software program like “your taxes are almost done, don’t forget about us!” or “congrats for finishing your taxes, here’s when you can expect your return?”

If they don’t use tax software, are they filling out paper forms? Using IRS Free File? Like… I can’t even picture this process.

Once the scam victim has received the refund, what happens if they just keep it? Like, “thanks for doing my taxes?” I guess I’d want to know whether the scammers did my taxes correctly first, so… do you contact the IRS and ask for a copy of your 2017 return? Do you open up your tax software program and see if anyone has filled out your information on your behalf? Do you talk to your accountant about filing a 1040X Amended Tax Return form? (Wired suggests calling the IRS, getting the deposit refunded, and then doing your real taxes.)

If you got an unexpected refund deposit in your account — though I hope none of us do — what would you do with it, and how would you figure out how to proceed?

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