With tax deadline looming, state official warns ‘fraudsters are out there’

Head of the Department of Revenue stresses vigilance to avoid tax filing scams

The Internal Revenue Service 1040 tax form for 2022 is seen on April 17, 2023. Jon Elswick/AP Photo

As the 2024 tax filing deadline approaches, Wisconsin Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca is warning residents to be extra vigilant because the “fraudsters are out there en masse.” 

During an appearance Friday on WPR’s The Morning Show, Barca said two “tax preparation groups” have already been hacked this year, “and there are many more attempts that are out there.” He said there are several steps filers can take to protect themselves, including keeping computer anti-virus programs up to date.

Also, Barca said people may get emails or text messages from sources claiming to be the DOR or the IRS, “and they usually can tell they’re scammers, because they’ll say you’re in trouble, you owe money, there’s a problem with your account.” 

“And people should know that if there’s something to be said, they’ll get an official letter in the mail that won’t come from a phone call or a text,” Barca said. “We only call people if they’ve gotten a letter telling them to expect a call.”

According to a statement from a DOR spokesperson, the agency “rejected refunds worth $240.7 million attributable to fraud attempts, including identity theft tax refund fraud” this year alone. In 2023, $300.3 million worth of fraudulent refund attempts were rejected.

“Every year we have been seeing increased attempts at income tax refund fraud,” the statement said. “Tax year 2023 was one of the highest fraud rates on record, and Tax year 2024 is on pace to meet and possibly exceed last year’s attempts.”

According to an IRS report to Congress, there were 294,138 identity theft complaints filed with that agency in 2023, slightly below a record 328,591 complaints filed in 2021.   

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Barca said the state spends millions of dollars each year to intercept successful hacks of tax preparation agencies.

“So, we think we’ve been extremely effective at that,” he said.

Diane Wollack is a vice president of the Wisconsin Association of Accountants. She told WPR she’s seen fake emails, and filers should “be very careful, do not open anything with an attachment.” 

“And then they try to get you with, ‘Well, we need more information on your W2 or we can’t process it,’” Wollack said. “Well, be real, real leery of that. That’s not the case. With electronic filing nowadays, if there’s something wrong with a W2, they’ll reject it right away.”

But, Wolloack said, scammers are always changing their approaches.

“The scams are becoming so sophisticated that sometimes it’s really difficult to tell what’s truth and not truth,” Wollack said.

Barca said the the DOR has already processed more than a million state tax returns, with an average refund of around $800. The deadline for Wisconsinites to file federal and state tax returns is April 15.