Special to the Reporter
Some e-mail scams claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service are taking on modern looks, but they are no less dangerous to consumers. In such scams, a fraudster, often posing as a trusted government, financial or business institution or official, tries to trick a victim into revealing personal and financial information, such as credit card numbers and passwords, bank account numbers and passwords, Social Security numbers and more. Generally, identity thieves use someone’s personal data to steal his or her financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name and even file fraudulent tax returns.
The scams may take place through e-mail, fax or phone. When they take place via e-mail, they are called “phishing” scams.
"The IRS does not initiate contact or discuss tax account matters with taxpayers by e-mail," said Clay Sanford, an IRS spokesman in Dallas. "And, don't fall for some of the new twists to this old scam, either."
Sanford stressed that if taxpayers are curious as to whether the IRS is trying to contact them, they can call the IRS' toll-free assistance line at 1-800-829-1040 to easily answer that question.
The IRS urges consumers to avoid falling for the following recent schemes:
Making Work Pay Refund
This phishing e-mail, which claims to come from the IRS, references the president and the Making Work Pay provision of the 2009 economic recovery law. It says that there is a refundable credit available to workers, consumers and retirees that can be paid into the recipient’s bank account if the recipient registers their account information with the IRS. The e-mail contains links to register the account and to claim the tax refund.
In reality, most taxpayers receive their Making Work Pay tax credit, which was designed for wage earners, in their paychecks as a result of decreased tax withholding, not as a lump sum distribution from a federal fund. Additionally, consumers and retirees who are not wage earners are not eligible for this tax credit.
Inherited Funds / Lottery Winnings / Cash Consignment
In this phishing scheme, recipients receive an e-mail claiming to come from the U.S. Department of the Treasury notifying them that they will receive millions of dollars in recovered funds or lottery winnings or cash consignment if they provide certain personal information, including phone numbers, via return e-mail. The e-mail may be just the first step in a multi-step scheme, in which the victim is later contacted by telephone or further e-mail and instructed to deposit taxes on the funds or winnings before they can receive any of it. Alternatively, they may be sent a phony check of the funds or winnings and told to deposit it but pay 10 percent in taxes or fees. Thinking that the check must have cleared the bank and is genuine, some people comply. However, the scammers, not the Treasury Department, will get the taxes or fees.
The bogus e-mail, which claims to come from the IRS, tells the recipient that he or she is eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount. It instructs the recipient to click on a link contained in the e-mail to access and complete a form for the tax refund. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information. The refund scam is the most common one seen by the IRS. Several recent variations on this scam have claimed to come from the Exempt Organizations area of the IRS. Some others have included the name and purported signature of a genuine or a made-up IRS executive.
Taxpayers do not have to complete a special form to obtain a refund. Taxpayer refunds are based on the tax return they submit to the IRS.
Take Action to Protect Yourself
Forward the suspicious e-mail or url address to the IRS mailbox email@example.com.
"Then, delete the e-mail from your system," Sanford advised. "Don't open these scam e-mails, either, because they may contain a malicious code that could harm you computer."
The only genuine IRS Web site is IRS.gov. All IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with http://www.irs.gov/. Anyone wishing to access the IRS Web site should initiate contact by typing the IRS.gov address into their Internet address window, rather than clicking on a link in an e-mail.