It’s the season of giving, but be careful not to be charitable with con artists looking to capitalize on the busiest time of the year.
The number of phishing scams continues to increase, and those that are designed to exploit the desire of most taxpayers to comply with the law are particularly sinister since they often use schemes that make their intended victim believe they are communicating with officials from the IRS.
The IRS has reported receiving a rising number of complaints of email scams that are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics, and often seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.
Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages, and the communications are being reported in every section of the country.
When people click on these email links, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to help file false tax returns. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people’s computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.
Another phishing scam is one that appears to come from the IRS asking the victim to “update your IRS e-file immediately.” Pay close attention to those emails, though, and you will see that they mention “USA.gov” or IRSgov (without the dot between “IRS” and “gov”).
There are two places to look that will almost immediately tip you off that you are the recipient of a phishing scam: the date and subject of the email.
Check the timing of the email. If you receive an email that would normally be sent during business hours but was sent at an unusual time, like 3 a.m., it is likely a scam.
You should also review the subject line and ask:
- Does the subject line make sense given the context of the email?
- Is the email message a reply to something you never sent or requested?
If you notice anything about the email that alarms you, do not click the links, open attachments or reply. It is best to just delete the email immediately.
In addition to email scams, the IRS has also reported that an aggressive and sophisticated phone scam is targeting taxpayers – including recent immigrants. In these cases, the con artists claim to be employees with the IRS and tell the victims that they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly using a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, the fake IRS agent threatens the victim with jail, loss of business or driver’s license, or deportation.
The scammers use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers, and rig the caller ID to look like the IRS is calling. They also can seem to know a lot about their intended targets, furthering the seeming legitimacy of their con.
- The IRS does not initiative contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.
- The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
- The IRS will never threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law enforcement agency to have you arrested for not paying.
- The IRS will never demand that you pay taxes without first giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount it says you owe.
- The IRS will never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
As always, if you are concerned about any correspondence you receive from the IRS, please give us a call.
Sources: IRS.gov, KnowBe4.com