They are scammers using tax hooks to snare your personal and financial data. And actually, they never left.
But they were quite busy during May and June.
During those months, the IRS got reports of almost 700 incidents that were part of a new wave of scams using the IRS name in identity theft e-mails, aka phishing attempts. That brings the number of phishing attempts (those that were reported, anyway) so far this year to about 1,600.
In a typical year, the most tax-related scams involve tax refunds. This year, however, is not typical, thanks to the economic stimulus payments. And that means that in 2008, scams related to rebates abound.
Here's what the IRS says it's been seeing over the first six months of the year.
Refund E-mail Scam
There are several variations of this con, in which an e-mail claiming to come from the IRS falsely informs you that you're eligible for a specific tax refund amount. The bogus e-mail instructs you to click on a link to access a refund claim form, which, of course, asks for your personal and financial information.
The real deal: Don't fall for e-mails reportedly from the IRS. The agency does not send unsolicited e-mail about tax account matters to taxpayers. There is no separate tax refund form; filing a tax return is the only way to apply for a refund. If you think you're due a refund, use instead the IRS' official Where’s My Refund? interactive search tool.
Economic Stimulus Payments Scam
In this scam, you get an e-mail pretending to come from the IRS and telling you that you're eligible for an economic stimulus payment. The message recommends you have the rebate money directly deposited your checking or savings account; all you have to do is click on a link to complete and submit an online form by a certain date. As with the fake regular refund form, this fake rebate one seeks your personal and financial data.
The real deal: I can't believe this might work, since by now everyone should know that the only way to get an economic stimulus payment is to file a 2007 tax return. Plus, says the IRS, it does not request personal or financial information via e-mail. Just in case you need a rebate refresher, check out the Economic Stimulus Payment Information Center on the IRS Web site.
Substitute Form 1040 Fax Scam
Yes, fax machines still exist. I have one, but I leave it off unless someone from the 20th century tells me they're going to send me something that old-fashioned way. But scammers will try anything to get your money.
In this scam, individuals receive via fax a cover letter and form. The cover letter is addressed to "Dear Valued Tax Payer" (yes, taxpayer is misspelled, as words often are in con communications) and appears to be signed by an IRS employee. The letter says that the IRS is updating its files and if you supply the requested information, you will receive a nominal tax refund.
It also states that if you delay sending in the completed form, you could face additional tax and withholding.
The attached form is labeled a substitute Form 1040 and is titled "Certificate of Current Status of Beneficial Owner For United States Tax Recertification & Withholding." It requests a large amount of detailed personal and financial information, such as mother’s maiden name (often used in security screening), bank account numbers, estimated assets and more.
This scam also wants you to, in addition to signing and faxing back the completed form, send along a copy your driver’s license and passport.
The real deal: Think about it a minute. Why in the world would the IRS want your driver's license and passport info? It doesn't. The letter, signature and form are all fraudulent, and in fact, are variants of earlier scams. Moreover, the IRS does not send unsolicited faxes to taxpayers and does not request such detailed personal and financial information.
Company Report Scam
This is a more personalized scam. The e-mail appears to come from an IRS.gov e-mail address, will addresses you by name and references the company for which you work. These details may convince some folks that the e-mail is legitimate.
The e-mail says that the IRS has a report on the company and asks you to review a copy by clicking on a link to download the report. But when the link is clicked, malware, or malicious code, is downloaded to your computer.
There are various types of malware, which can hijack a victim's computer hard drive to allow remote access to the machine, search for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer, or cause other types of identity theft or damage.
The real deal: The IRS does not compile reports on companies or send e-mails to company staff asking them to review a report.
Tax Court Scam
In this scam, an e-mail that appears to come from the U.S. Tax Court contains a petition involving a court case between you and the IRS. The document instructs you to download other files, which again transfer malware, or malicious code, to your computer.
The real deal: The first big hint here is whether you're involved in a Tax Court case. Even if you are, the Tax Court is not e-mailing notices to anyone who currently has a case pending. Visit the court’s Web site for more information.
If you fall for a scam, identity thieves will use the personal and financial data you provide to empty your bank accounts, run up charges on your credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in your name, file fraudulent tax returns in your name to collect fake refunds and even commit other crimes.
So the key is to avoid becoming
In every case where you get unsolicited e-mails, regardless of who they purportedly are from, do not click on any links.
So that the IRS and law enforcement agencies can track down the criminals sending the fake e-mails, forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org. The IRS has more information and instructions on the reporting process at this Web page.
Then, after you've sent it to the IRS, delete the suspicious e-mail.
If you've received a fax or even a questionable telephone call that claims to come from the IRS, you also can report those occurrences via the email@example.com mailbox.
The IRS has issued many, many, many previous warnings on scams that use the IRS name to assume a semblance of legitimacy. More information on identity theft, phishing and telephone scams using the IRS name, logo or a fake (spoofed or copied) Web site is available on the IRS Web site. Type "phishing," "identity theft" or "e-mail scams" into the search box in the upper right corner of the front page.
You also can read my previous blog items on tax-related scams here. This post will show up first, but just keep scrolling for all the past dirty deeds.
Phishing image courtesy How Stuff Works.