Fraud Alert: IRS Refund Letter is Bogus
Last updated July 19, 2023
No, the IRS is not sending letters to taxpayers who are owed “an unclaimed refund.” Criminals impersonating the IRS are trying to steal sensitive personal and financial information.
Listen to audio highlights of the story below:
These bogus refund notices—sent in cardboard envelopes from a delivery service—have the IRS logo at the top, but the contact information does not belong to the IRS.
“What makes this unique is it's an actual physical mailer coming to you, delivered, as opposed to an email phishing scam, or text smishing, or phone calls, which we've seen in the last few years,” said IRS spokesman Raphael Tulino.
While the IRS does contact taxpayers by mail, it uses normal envelopes, not cardboard mailers, Tulino told Checkbook. Most importantly, the agency never sends letters about refunds.
In fact, there’s no such thing as an “unclaimed refund.” If a refund is justified by the taxpayer’s return, the refund will be sent to them as directed by check or direct deposit.
The fraudulent letter, which has punctuation errors, sloppy syntax, and a mixture of fonts, has a number of other red flags.
Red Flag #1: It says the recipient will need to provide “filing information” for their refund, as well as a Social Security number, bank routing information, and cellphone number:
"You'll Need to Get This to Get Your Refunds After Filing. These Must Be Given to a Filing Agent Who Will Help You Submit Your Unclaimed Property Claim. Once You Send All The Information Please Try to Be Checking Your Email for Response From The Agents Thanks"
Red Flag #2: The letter also makes what the IRS called “an awkwardly worded” request for a copy of the taxpayer’s driver’s license.
“A Clear Phone of Your Driver's License That Clearly Displays All Four (4) Angles, Taken in a Place with Good Lighting.”
You should never provide sensitive personal information, such as Social Security number or bank information, unless you initiated the call and are absolutely sure you know the number is legitimate. The same goes for your driver’s license photo and information.
“Driver’s license photos or data is sometimes required in the authentication process. This makes this data very valuable to identity thieves,” explained Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. “Thieves can use these photos to defeat anti-fraud protocols. Often thieves use driver’s license data to apply for government benefits in your name, however, once you send the photograph, it could be used on any platform that requires this data, or photo, for authentication.”
The IRS is a favorite for fraudsters who try to impersonate the federal government. A call, text, email, or letter purporting to be from the tax collector tends to get noticed.
“The IRS is not reaching out to you, uninitiated, about your tax refund in any way, shape, or form,” Tulino told Checkbook. “It's the bad guys using the IRS as a lure, if you will, dangling this refund information, which of course is bogus because we don't operate that way.”
If you receive a letter that appears to be from the IRS, go to IRS.gov and call the phone number listed there.
“Do not call the number listed on the letter,” Velasquez warned. “Do not send any personal information, including photos of your driver’s license or other identity documents.”
If you need to check on the status of your refund, maybe it’s taking longer than expected, you can go to the Where’s My Refund? page on the IRS website, call 800-829-1954 to use the automated phone system, or speak to an agent by dialing 800-829-1040.
Most government imposters use digital communications to snag their victims. It’s cheap, easy and gets a quicker response.
Never click on an unsolicited text or email claiming to be from a government agency. Chances are its malicious since government agencies use the United States Postal Service to initiate contact. Clicking a link or opening an attachment could surreptitiously load malware onto your device.
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Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He has been protecting consumers for more than 40 years, having covered the consumer beat for CBS News, The Today Show, and NBCNews.com. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.