Seasonal tax scam alert: ‘The IRS has filed a lawsuit against you!’

Victims reported losing $10.3 billion to cybercriminals in 2022, up from $2.7 billion in 2017.
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 9:06 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 3, 2023 at 3:05 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - “The IRS is filing lawsuits against everyone, and apparently, the police are on their way to arrest you!”

Hundreds of millions of people receive this or similar phone scam messages every year. The scam targets elderly and vulnerable people, and according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), internet and phone scams are more successful than ever.

Victims reported losing $10.3 billion to cybercriminals in 2022, up from $2.7 billion in 2017. Cybersecurity experts said the real number could be triple the amount or more.

Dr. Chris Pierson, a cybersecurity expert and CEO of BLACKCLOAK, a firm that protects high profile executives, said cybercriminals use the tax day deadline to create fear and a sense of urgency. The messages go out on calls, text messages, emails, and on social media sites like Facebook.

“Everyone has to deal with it; the cybercriminals know what the date is; they know when people are getting ready to file and getting all their paperwork in order; and so they come out in droves,” Pierson said.

The IRS has a dedicated web page warning about tax filing scams, and the agency said it never calls demanding immediate payment using prepaid debit cards, gift card or wire transfers. Its guide said it will generally make contact by mail, and adds the agency never threatens lawsuits or threatens to call police to have taxpayers arrested, and it will never demand payment without questions or an appeal.

Once cybercriminals get a victim’s personal information, they use it to open credit accounts in the victim’s name or use it to file a false tax return. Pierson said most victims won’t know about the crime until they file their returns.

“You then go to file and later, the IRS says you’ve already filed and you’ve already got your tax refund,” Pierson said. “You now are a victim of this very popular identity theft scam.”

If you are a victim, and your tax refund is stolen, can you get your money back?

The answer is yes, but according to the IRS, it’s going to time. Victims are required to file affidavits with supporting documentation. The wait time used to be 120 days but it’s now more than a year.

“Due to extenuating circumstances caused by the pandemic our identity theft inventories have increased dramatically and on average it is taking us 430 days to resolve identity theft cases,” the agency said.

Here are some helpful links:

If there’s something you would like Atlanta News First’s Consumer Investigator Better Call Harry to look into, fill out this submission form.

ANF+: Better Business Bureau Consumer Expert Simone Williams shares some of the top tax scams to watch out for and how you can protect yourself as you file.

If you or a loved one have fallen victim to a scam or suspect a scam, report it to the BBB ScamTracker.