E-mail schemes like the one the IRS made public on Friday are the reason why the nation’s tax-collection agency ranked phishing number 3 in its 2014 “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams.
According to the IRS, phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited e-mails or fake websites that lure victims into providing personal and financial information. A criminal can use that information to commit identity theft or financial theft.
This latest phishing scheme involves e-mails to taxpayers that appear to be from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service and include a bogus case number. The fake e-mails may include the following message: “Your reported 2013 income is flagged for review due to a document processing error. Your case has been forwarded to the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance. To avoid delays processing your 2013 filing, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance.”
The bogus e-mails direct the recipient to click on links that supposedly provide information about the taxpayer advocate assigned to their case or that let them “review reported income,” the IRS noted. The links lead to web pages that solicit personal information.
The IRS stressed that taxpayers who receive these e-mails should not respond, nor click on the links. Instead, they should forward the fake e-mails to the agency at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found on the IRS’s Report Phishing web page.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service is a legitimate IRS organization that helps taxpayers resolve federal tax issues that have not been resolved through the normal IRS channels. The IRS and the Taxpayer Advocate Service do not initiate contact with taxpayers via e-mail, texting, or any social media.
This latest scam comes on the heels of a warning by Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) J. Russell George on March 21 about a sophisticated nationwide phone scam, which he called “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen.”
The phone scam, in which taxpayers are told they owe money to the IRS and are threatened with arrest or deportation if they don't pay up, has occurred in nearly every state in the country.
Victims are told by scammers who are impersonating IRS agents that they must pay the IRS promptly through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer. If they refuse to cooperate, the scammers often become hostile and insulting, threatening to send the victims to prison, to deport them, or to suspend their business or driver's license.
George noted that TIGTA has received reports of more than 20,000 contacts and has become aware of thousands of victims who have collectively paid more than $1 million as a result of the scam.
“The increasing number of people receiving these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming,” he said in a written statement. “At all times – and particularly during the tax-filing season – we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alert to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals. Do not become a victim.”
The IRS will contact people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes, and it won’t ask for payment using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The agency also does not ask for a credit card number over the phone.
“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” George said.