As tax season begins (again already!), tax accountants begin to daydream about spring fishing trips. It’s important to keep in mind that crooks like to “phish” too.
Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminds us that they receive thousands of reports from taxpayers who receive suspicious emails, phone calls, faxes or notices claiming to be from the IRS. We also get these reports from our clients and staff.
Scammers often fraudulently use the IRS name or logo to make the communication appear more authentic and maybe even intimidating. No one ever likes to hear from the IRS unless you know it’s your refund check! The goal of these scams – known as phishing – is to trick you into revealing personal and financial information, such as your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers. The scammers try to steal your identity and make some easy money by impersonating the IRS.
In recent IRS TAX TIP 2012-08, titled “Don’t Be Scammed by Cyber Criminals,” the IRS outlined five things it wants you to know about phishing scams that are likely to pop up during tax preparation season:
1. The IRS never asks for detailed personal and financial information like PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.
2. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. If you receive an email from someone claiming to be the IRS or directing you to an IRS site:
• Do not reply to the message.
• Do not open any attachments. Attachments might contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
• Do not click on any links. If you have clicked on links in a suspicious email or phishing website and entered confidential information, visit the IRS website and enter the search term “identity theft” for more information and resources to help.
3. The address of the official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be confused or misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS, and you suspect it is bogus, do not provide any personal information on the suspicious site and report it to the IRS.
4. If you receive a phone call, fax or letter in the mail from an individual claiming to be from the IRS, but you suspect they are not an IRS employee, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you. Report any bogus correspondence. You can forward a suspicious email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. You can help shut down these schemes and prevent others from being victimized. Details on how to report specific types of scams and what to do if you’ve been victimized are available at www.irs.gov. Click on ”phishing” on the home page.
Follow the IRS’s advice if you get these suspicious communications. Don’t respond to these requests, because I can assure you, this would be one phishing trip that neither one of us would want to go on!
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This advice is not intended or written to be used for, and it cannot be used for, the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties that may be imposed, or for promoting, marketing or recommending to another person, any tax related matter.