Taking Back the ID

Fake tax refunds, business license scams and risky AI platforms

What makes fraudsters see dollar signs in their eyes? Personally identifiable information. Here are schemes designed to squeeze PII from victims via web links, the mail and insecure AI platforms.

Donald Jones received an email, supposedly from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), that said he should expect a tax refund, but he first would have to complete a form and submit it. He clicked on a link in the message and complied with the request. Later that month, Jones’ bank told him that his checks were bouncing because he had a zero balance in his account. Luckily, the bank restored his funds, and he immediately changed his account number to help prevent any future losses.

This case is fictional, but it represents a real scam. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), fraudsters are again using email and text messages to impersonate the IRS — complete with the IRS logo — to steal personally identifiable information (PII) and use it for nefarious purposes.

The fraudulent message says you have a refund of $650 because you overpaid $1,000 on your 2023 tax return. “We applied for all or part of your … overpayment … to the amount you owe for other tax years. As a result, you are due a refund of $650.00.” You’re then instructed to click on the link, “Check Your Refund,” to check on your “tax refund e-statement” or fill out a document. Don’t do it because the fraudster will steal your identity or load malware onto your computer or smartphone. In either case, your PII will be compromised.

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