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Scam Artists and Your Taxes


By Orlando Gotay

By now, it should be common knowledge that crooks falsely pose as IRS agents. The scam goes like this: A call is generated, usually from an official-looking 202 Washington DC area code. The caller identifies with an official-sounding IRS “employee number,” telling the victim that there are delinquent taxes due and that the IRS has filed a lawsuit. The caller then makes a demand for immediate payment, usually via some bogus arrangement made through Western Union, prepaid debit cards, or the like. To make the case seem even more urgent, the caller says that “agents will be on the way” to arrest the victim if they do not cooperate with the proposed “payment arrangement.”

If you think those calls are bogus and hang up on them, count yourself blessed. Not long ago, I had a call from a relative in tears over one of these calls. Twenty minutes worth of explaining did little to assuage her that the IRS was in fact not on the way.

There is a new scam that seems to me even far more damaging: You get a real refund from the IRS, through check or direct deposit. Then the call comes, claiming an erroneous refund was made, demanding immediate repayment. How, you say, can this happen?

Scam artists have become far more sophisticated. This involves filing an actual return in your name, using real information hacked from an employer or a return preparer, with false numbers that generate an incorrect refund. The scam is complete when you return the money to a crook. Invariably, the scammers want you to return the money electronically (to accounts they control) or—you guessed it—face arrest.

How to Correctly Return a False Refund

If you receive a refund you were not expecting—or worse, if you have not yet filed—you must return the “refund” immediately to the IRS. If you get a paper check, write “void” on its face, prepare a note, and send it back to the IRS. If the refund came by direct deposit, ask the bank to send it back to the IRS. You should also be on the alert and look to see if a false return has been filed for you. A clear sign of this would be if your own electronic return gets rejected because of a previous filing.

Your tax return preparer should be able to assist. Filing Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit is a step to take if a return has been filed on your behalf by someone else.

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a master of laws in taxation), admitted to practice before the IRS, the US Tax Court, and other taxing agencies.


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