In a written reply to the Lok Sabha on 24 June 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman, Union minister of finance and corporate affairs, stated that, “A total of 7.19 crore income tax returns (ITRs) have been processed in 2018-19. The total amount of refunds released in 2018-19 is 1,61,457.6 crore.” She added that 64,700 crore of refunds have been issued so far in fiscal year 2019-20.

While the government is focusing on faster processing of ITR and issuance of refunds, the Income Tax (I-T) department is trying to make people aware of fraudulent refund emails and messages.

When you log on to either of the two income tax website—www.incometaxindia.gov.in or www.incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in—the first thing that pops up is a window warning you against fraudulent emails and messages. It provides information about when and how the I-T department communicates with taxpayers and how you need to respond. Let’s read more about it.

Fake refund messages

Many internet users, including those registered with the I-T department, are not conversant with the online system and procedures, making them vulnerable to fraud. It can be difficult to identify fraudulent emails, especially because email, domain names, content and look and feel of these emails is similar to those that you receive from the tax department. The web pages that these emails direct potential victims to, also look dangerously similar to the real thing.

However, one should take note of the fact that typically emails sent by the I-T department are system generated and you are not required to reply to them. If you receive an email from the department, you can check whether the department has sent any such email to users by logging in to your tax filing account on the department’s website. Locate the “Reminders/Campaigns” tab and click on it to view information about all emails and SMSs sent by department on a particular date, as well as the subject line.

For instance, the last email was sent by I-T department on 31 March 2019 with a subject line “File your Income Tax Return before 31 March 2019 – <PAN>”. Similarly, the last SMS was also sent on the same date and it reads “<PAN> – LAST CHANCE to file your Income Tax Return for AY 2018-19 or to Revise your Return. ITR filing for AY 2018-19 will be BLOCKED after 31st March 2019.”

Also remember that the tax department never seeks any information from a taxpayer—like username, password, and details of debit and credit cards—over email. If you are required to take any action, you will be asked to log in to your e-filing account on the income tax e-filing website, www.incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in.

If an email asks you to furnish any financial details, you should be suspicious. All your information, including bank details, is already available with the department, so there is no need for you to furnish it.

What should you do?

Besides financial losses, such emails can also harm your device. If you receive and identify a fraudulent email claiming to be from the I-T department, don’t click on any link included in it or download any attachments from it.

Instead, forward the email or website URL to phishing@incometax.gov.in. A copy may also be forwarded to incident@cert-in.org.in. Also keep a printout of the email for your record and delete it from your email account.

However, if you fail to identify a fraudulent email and end up sharing some information or are duped into making a payment, it is very difficult to trace the fraudster and recover the money. Once you realize your mistake, aside from informing the I-T department, you should also file a case with the police. Apart from that, immediately intimate your bank, and change the passwords and PINs of your net-banking accounts, credit cards and so on.