Color of Money: Same old tax scam, but with a new troubling twist

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- We know they are out there.

They are the criminals who call and claim that you'll be arrested if you don't pay up on an old tax debt that you don't actually owe. But the official-sounding calls can be scary.

My 17-year-old daughter got such a call recently on her cell phone -- and she doesn't even pay income taxes. She suspected it was a scam, but she rushed to me to make sure.

But because many more people have become aware of the telephone tax-payment trick and learned to ignore the threats, the schemers had to evolve.

And the latest twist on this swindle is just pure evil.

The IRS has issued a warning to taxpayers about a scam in which a fraudulently obtained tax refund is deposited into a victim's actual bank account. Here's how it works:

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Cybercriminals steal people's data from tax professionals, including routing and bank account numbers. The crooks file fraudulent tax returns. Fake refunds are then direct deposited into taxpayers' real bank accounts.

In one version of this scam, the criminals then contact victims claiming to be from a debt-collection agency, and they say the refunds were deposited in error. They claim they are now trying to get the refund back for the IRS.

I can imagine how easy it is to panic and fall victim to this scam. Taxpayers can see money has been deposited. They know it isn't rightfully theirs. And since nobody in their right mind wants to mess with the IRS, they are eager to cooperate to return the money.

"It's insidious," said Eric Smith, an IRS spokesman, who added that thousands of taxpayers have been affected by this scam.


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