Scam alert: Thieves have a new way to steal your tax refund

A 1040 tax form appears on display, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in New York | AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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The IRS is sounding an alarm about a new tax scam. Specifically, it's warning tax preparers to be on guard about the scam, which is aimed at stealing taxpayers' refunds by using data compromised in tax preparers' offices.

The agency said it has already received a number of fake tax returns that had accurate taxpayer names, addresses, Social Security numbers and even bank account information for the victims.

In an unusual twist, some bogus refunds were actually directed to the real taxpayers' bank accounts, the agency said. A criminal, posing as a debt collector, then contacted the taxpayers saying the refunds had been sent in error and the victims should forward the money to the crook.

Because these fake returns contained all of the taxpayer's correct information, down to the right number of dependents, the IRS believes the scam started in tax-preparation offices. The agency assumes that the data was compromised because some preparers were taken in by phishing scams that then loaded malicious software onto their computer systems, making all the taxpayer information that was kept by these preparers vulnerable to theft.

The IRS said it's still in preliminary stages of investigating the con and can't quantify how many people have been affected. But because this type of scam has a way of burgeoning overnight, the agency wanted to immediately warn preparers to secure their computer systems.

"Given the history that we have seen on scams like this, when these start, they tend to proliferate quickly," IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. "When a scam turns out to be successful, they tend to expand. We wanted to alert tax professionals to be on the lookout."

The first inkling that a taxpayer would get that they were victimized is when their electronically filed return gets rejected as a duplicate.

At that point, in addition to reporting the fraud to the credit bureaus and the Federal Trade Commission, tax fraud victims need to fill out a special IRS form, 14039. The taxpayer's 1040 must then be filed on paper, with the fraud affidavit attached to the front.

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