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New IRS scam hits deposited tax refunds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Has a tax refund been deposited into your account, even though you haven’t filed your return yet?

This is a tip-off that you are part of a new quickly-growing IRS scam the agency says it started seeing just a few days into this year’s filling season.

The new twist is based on information scammers stole last year from tax professionals. Among the information gleaned about customers was bank account numbers for people who had requested the IRS use direct deposit for their refunds. (The IRS says 177 individual or company tax preparers reported data thefts from January through May 2017.)

Fraudsters who file fake tax returns to steal people’s refunds are now having that money deposited into the individual’s checking account, using the stolen checking account information, the IRS says.

How, then, do they gain access to the money?

“Thieves are … using various tactics to reclaim the refund from the taxpayers, and their versions of the scam may continue to evolve,” the IRS said in its alert.

In one scenario, criminals contact taxpayers and pretend to be debt collection officials acting on behalf of the IRS. They’ll tell you the refund was deposited in error and ask you to forward the money to them.

In another version, automated calls with a recorded voice claiming to be from the IRS threaten callers with “criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant and a `blacklisting’ of (the taxpayer’s) Social Security number,” the IRS says. The scammer gives the person a fake case number and a phone number to return the refund.

The IRS is warning people who have been targeted not to just keep the money that’s been deposited because this is a case of tax fraud.

Here’s what the agency says you should do: contact the Automated Clearing House department of the bank where the direct deposit was received and ask that the refund be returned to the IRS. Next, call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 to explain why the money is being returned. There’s some thought that scammers have come up with new plots like these because authorities are cracking down on better known methods of IRS fraud.

“This scheme is likely just the first of many that will be identified this year as the IRS, state tax agencies and tax industry continue to fight back against tax-related identity thieves,” the IRS said in a statement.

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Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.