IRS warns tax preparers about a new refund scam

(CBS) -- Only a few days into the tax-filing season, 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," said IRS spokesman Terry Lemons. "When a scam turns out to be successful, they tend to expand. We wanted to alert tax professionals to be on the lookout."

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