With less than a month to go before tax-filing deadline, the IRS has reported a 400 percent increase in reported phishing and malware scams and is increasingly worried about this cyber-threat.
Typically, scammers use bogus emails to trick you into thinking they come from the IRS, well-known tax preparers or tax software companies. They’re “phishing” for information regarding your refund, filing status, your E-file PIN or the PIN issued by the IRS to identity-theft victims. The fraudsters use this information to file forged tax returns.
Do not click on the links in these emails, which take you to sites cloned from IRS.gov and solicit personal information. The sites can also infect your computers and enable thieves to access your files, or — believe it or not — track your keystrokes to steal information.
If you receive an email from the IRS, it’s probably fake because the IRS generally does not email, text or send faxes to taxpayers.
Be on the lookout for:
• Any official-looking email from the IRS or someone in the tax industry.
• A request to update important information by clicking on a web link.
• A subject line that refers to a tax refund, updating filing details such as W-2s, confirming personal information, getting an E-file PIN, ordering a transcript or completing your tax return. If you receive an email that appears to be from the IRS, report it by forwarding it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You also need to beware of these scoundrels when answering your phone. The IRS says telephone con artists have devised new tricks this year.
Generally, these scammers call to “verify” tax return information over the phone. Claiming to be IRS agents, they say they have your tax return and need to verify a few details to process your return – details such as your Social Security number, bank and credit card information.
Often, they manipulate caller ID numbers to make it appear as if the IRS is calling. They spout off IRS titles and fictitious badge numbers and use your name, address and other personal information to sound legitimate.
Sometimes, the crooks get ugly. They demand payment for a fake tax bill and try to bully you into sending cash, threaten to arrest or deport you or revoke your driver’s license if they don’t get the money.
A few swindlers take a kinder, gentler approach, politely asking you to verify your identity over the phone.
“Don’t be fooled,” says IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”
In fact, the IRS says it will never:
• Call to demand immediate payment over the phone or to discuss taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
• Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
• Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or e-mail.
• Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, hang up immediately. If you owe, or suspect you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040.