Wait, what? You didn't file your income tax return yet but suddenly, somehow you spotted a bunch of money in your bank account from a refund?
Believe it or not, criminals are using real bank accounts in a fast-spreading scam that could gain more traction as we move into prime refund season, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
"It's super-sophisticated," said Luis Garcia, a spokesperson for the IRS in Detroit. "If you haven't filed your taxes -- especially if you're not expecting a refund -- and money shows up in your account, don't touch it."
Last summer, the IRS reported that cybercriminals had been targeting tax professionals. According to the IRS, 177 tax professionals or firms reported data thefts involving client information relating to thousands of tax filers from January through May 2017. Much of that theft started with a phishing e-mail sent to the tax professional posing as a potential client to gain access to the professionals' computer systems and collect the personal information of existing clients.
After stealing the data from tax professionals, criminals could have your bank account number if you requested direct deposit of a refund earlier.
Now, the crooks who file fake tax returns to steal refund cash could be giving the IRS your bank account information for direct deposit of fraudulent refunds.
How do the crooks then get the cash?
One scheme includes an automated call that claims that you're a willing participant in tax fraud and demands that you return the money. Of course, if you follow their directions, you're handing the money over to the crooks.
Garcia said some people could be caught off guard by such calls, especially when they suddenly spot a deposit from the U.S. Treasury in their account.