Watch Out for This Scam: Fake IRS Letters About Unclaimed Tax Refunds
Watch out. If you get a letter that’s supposedly from the IRS about an unclaimed tax refund, it’s a scam.
That’s what the IRS says. It’s warning taxpayers about a new scam — this one involving what looks like an official letter from the IRS.
At first glance, these letters look pretty authentic. For starters, they’re showing up at people’s homes in cardboard envelopes, and they come from a delivery service. The enclosed letter shows an official-looking IRS masthead and includes wording that the notice is “in relation to your unclaimed refund.”
That sounds good, right? Free money from the government!
The letter includes contact information and a phone number — but, whoops, it turns out those don’t actually belong to the IRS.
The letter also asks for personal information from taxpayers, including detailed pictures of driver’s licenses. Fraudsters can use this information for identity theft.
“This is just the latest in the long string of attempts by identity thieves posing as the IRS in hopes of tricking people into providing valuable personal information to steal identities and money, including tax refunds,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.
“These scams can come in through email, text or even in special mailings. People should be careful to watch out for red flags that clearly mark these as IRS scams.”
What’s the Truth?
Like a lot of scams, this one is built on a grain of truth: The IRS really is trying to get U.S. taxpayers to claim their unclaimed 2019 tax refunds.
Time is running out for 1.5 million U.S. taxpayers to claim their unclaimed 2019 tax refunds, which total $1.5 billion. The median tax refund for 2019 was $893, but a million and a half people still haven’t claimed their money. They have until July 17 to do so.
Most Americans file a federal income tax return, but not everyone does. People in low-income households don’t have to. The 2019 tax returns came due during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many people may have overlooked or forgotten the fact that they had refunds due to them.
However, the IRS says it is not reaching out to individual taxpayers about this. If someone claiming to be the IRS reaches out to you about a tax refund, it’s not really them.
A Weirdly Worded Letter
In this new scam letter, you can see some classic warning signs — like misspellings or strangely worded requests. An unusual feature of this particular scam is that it tries tricking people into sending some detailed personal information about themselves.
The letter tells recipients they need to provide “Filing Information” for their refund. This includes an awkwardly worded request for “A Clear Phone of Your Driver’s License That Clearly Displays All Four (4) Angles, Taken in a Place with Good Lighting.”
(Notice that it says “a clear phone,” not “a clear photo.”)
Then this fake letter asks for more sensitive information like your cell phone number, bank routing information and Social Security number.
Then there’s another weirdly worded sentence: “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.”
Yup, it’s definitely a scam.
What Should You Do?
Throw the letter away.
Beyond that, the IRS has a few tips:
The IRS regularly warns people about common scams, including the annual IRS Dirty Dozen list.
Never click on an unsolicited email or text claiming to be the IRS because it may surreptitiously load malware. It may also be a way for malicious hackers to load ransomware that keeps you from accessing your system and files.
You can report scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration or the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page at IRS.gov provides complete details. And the Federal Communications Commission’s Smartphone Security Checker is a useful tool against mobile phone security threats.
Mike Brassfield (mi[email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.