How to spot IRS tax scammers and protect your refund

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's tax season, which mean sit's also scam season for thieves. And there's plenty of old and new schemes for you to look out for.

You may get a call purporting to be from the IRS, threatening to arrest you. Or maybe calls, texts and emails from people trying to get your personal information.

The IRS will never threaten to arrest you, and it will never ask you for your personal information. These are scammers, and some of them are trying to file taxes in your name to steal your refund.

IMPORTANT INFO: How the IRS contacts taxpayers and what they won't do

Chicagoan Maxine Scott was surprised to receive a letter from the IRS alerting her that a tax refund was filed in her name. She knows it wasn't her, because Scott hasn't filed taxes due to her income status.

"I'm worried that if those people get that money, then I'm going to have to pay it back," she said.

With the help of her cousin Ivanhoe Hall, they're trying to resolve the issue with the IRS.

"There was a section on the IRS that asked us explicitly, 'did you file taxes' and we were able to submit 'no, it was not us,'" said Hall.

Scott isn't sure how the thieves got her personal information, but experts said scammers are ramping up phishing attacks to file taxes in your name.

LEARN: How to report tax scams to the IRS

They sending texts, emails with bogus links, even make calls pretending to be the IRS, asking for your social security number, date of birth and more.

"The best thing that you can do, even if you are not sure, is to not give out any personal information," said T-Mobile spokesperson Steve Carlson.

Phone carriers like T-Mobile have programs you can opt into that can block numbers from bad actors the technology weeds out suspicious calls.

READ MORE: IRS Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts

"When that scam call hits our network, it will be blocked at that level, and won't even go to your phone," Carlson explained.

Another red flag is calls from numbers that share the first six digits of your phone number. These spoofed numbers are designed to fool people into picking up what looks like a familiar number, experts say.

"If we see lots of outbound calls from a specific number, but no one answering, that's another sign that someone is likely trying to scam customers," said Carlson.

Some of those callers may also threaten a phony arrest and demand "immediate payment" via gift card or cryptocurrency. Those are not legit.

"If you are not sure if the caller is a legit IRS agent, ask for their badge number and their call number and they will provide that for you," Carlson advised.

Tax preparers are also on alert.

"You have to be very careful when filing someone's taxes now, because they can send you all of somebody else's information and give you their bank information and file the taxes," said Connell Jones, owner of CJ's 2 in 1 Enterprise.

Scott and her cousin used the IRS's website to upload proof of who she is and that she did not file a 2021 tax return. She's waiting on a confirmation from the IRS. In the meantime, they're worried the criminals who stole her identity could do even more damage.

"At this point, it does sound like someone has her name and personal identification," Hall said.

If you are a victim of identity theft, you should freeze your credit with all three major credit bureaus and file a detailed police report. If you are a victim of an IIRS scam also file a report a IRS.gov.
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