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USA's IRS fires the starting gun on tax-refund scam season

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Editorial Staff

Wherever you are in the world, the so-called Nigerian Scam is alive and well and yesterday's notice from the USA's Internal Revenue Service is the release that will launch a thousand scams - and probably many, many more. It's so serious that the subject line in the e-mail from the IRS raised spam / scam alerts in the Vortex Centrum monitoring system, which can't be good.

The headline of the notice is "IR-2018-44: IRS: Refunds worth $1.1 billion waiting to be claimed by those who have not filed 2014 federal income tax returns." Of course, scammers don't expect that their recipients will understand the importance of the notice number so they will probably leave it out and they might truncate the headline at "claimed".

But it's the promise of more than a "billion" (they mean 1,000 million which is rather less than claimed but for the sake of convenience this article maintains that illusion where quoting from the IRS and it matters because that USD1,100 million is, apparently, waiting for estimated 1 million taxpayers who did not file a 2014 federal income tax return so the claims are worth about USD1,000 not the significantly greater sum that a true billion would generate. In fact, the IRS says that the average refund (bizarrely, they call it the "midpoint" (sic) ) is USD847 "some will be more and some less."

The spam-scams and rogue telephone calls will create pressure because the deadline for collection is short "To collect the money, these taxpayers must file their 2014 tax return with the IRS no later than this year's tax deadline, Tuesday, April 17."

The IRS has defined the likely range of claimants, saying "Were trying to connect a million people with their share of $1.1 billion in unclaimed refunds for 2014, said Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter. Time is running out for people who havent (sic) filed tax returns to claim their refunds. Students, part-time workers and many others may have overlooked filing for 2014. And theres (sic) no penalty for filing a late return if youre(sic) due a refund."

It's not especially simple: "The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a 2014 tax refund that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2015 and 2016. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or a state tax agency and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans."

The sales pitch for spam-scammers who will offer to prepare tax returns are set out clearly "By failing to file a tax return, people stand to lose more than just their refund of taxes withheld or paid during 2014. Many low- and moderate-income workers may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For 2014, the credit was worth as much as $6,143."

The full notice, without the appalling grammatical errors contained in the e-mail, is at https://content.govdelivery.co...

It's ironic that the IRS has in recent days been issuing a series of notices warning of scams in tax return preparation season. It would have been better if what amounts to a marketing notice had been run past financial crime risk management before sending out such a breathless invitation to fraudsters to approach the very targets the IRS seeks to help.