It seems that scammers have come with a new scheme to trick taxpayers into giving them thousands of dollars, and it may be partly due to the big Equifax data breach that was reported last year. (You can read that blog post here: https://www.pj-networks.com/2018/02/the-equifax-data-breach-was-even-worse-than-they-told-us/)
Here's the way it works: The scammers file a tax return in your name and the IRS issues you a refund, which goes into your bank account. Within a few days, the scammers call you up and tell you that you that they are with a debt collection agency working with the IRS, and that there has been a mistake with a tax refund that they issued to you. If you check your bank account, you will see that the money is actually there. They ask you to kindly send the unauthorized refund payment money to them in order to avoid getting into trouble with the government. It's that simple.
How can you avoid this scam? First of all, as a general rule the IRS never calls taxpayers with issues like this, and they certainly would not threaten you with legal action over a mistake that they made with your return, nor would they threaten to arrest you. The scammers will try to get you rattled so that you rush to return the money before you get in trouble.
If you do see unexpected money appear in your bank account (or receive a surprise check) in the form of an unexpected refund payment from the IRS, don't panic. Slow down, take a deep breath, and contact your bank to request that they return the money to the IRS. Then, contact the IRS directly by calling 800-829-1040 to explain why the direct deposit is being returned to them.
There are several different variations of this scam, including a fraudulent refund by check, as mentioned above. The IRS has written a good article on how these scams may occur and how you should respond to them: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/scam-alert-irs-urges-taxpayers-to-watch-out-for-erroneous-refunds-beware-of-fake-calls-to-return-money-to-a-collection-agency
This is a good article from app.com that covers this topic from a news story angle: https://www.app.com/story/money/business/consumer/press-on-your-side/2018/02/23/new-twist-income-tax-refund-scam-exploding/365009002/
Ever since the huge data breach at Equifax, the online world has become a much more dangerous place, and we all have to be more vigilant than ever in protecting ourselves from identity theft and other scams that can be perpetrated by using our personal data.
Let's all be extra careful out there.
-The PJ Networks Team