IRS Warns Phishing Scams Increasing

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is reminding taxpayers to be on the lookout for bogus e-mails claiming to be from the tax agency, on the heels of a recent increase in scam e-mails.

In recent weeks the IRS has experienced an increase in complaints about e-mails designed to trick the recipients into disclosing personal and financial information that could be used to steal the recipient’s identity and financial assets. Since November, 99 different scams have been identified. Twenty of those were identified in June, the highest number since the height of the filing season when 40 were identified in March.

“The IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails asking for personal information,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, said in a prepared statement. “Don’t be taken in by these criminals.”

The current scams claim to come from theirs, tell recipients that they are due a federal tax refund, and direct them to a web site that appears to be a genuine IRS site. The bogus sites contain forms or interactive web pages similar to the IRS forms or Web pages but which have been modified to request detailed personal and financial information from the e-mail recipients. In addition, e-mail addresses ending with “.edu” – involving users in the education community – currently seem to be heavily targeted.

Many of the current schemes originate outside the United States. To date, investigations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have identified sites hosting more than two dozen IRS-related phishing scams. These scam Web sites have been located in many different countries, including Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, China, England, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, Singapore and Slovakia, as well as the United States.

Tricking consumers into disclosing their personal and financial information, such as secret access data or credit card or bank account numbers, is fraudulent activity which can result in identity theft. Such schemes perpetrated through the Internet are called “phishing” for information.

The information fraudulently obtained is them used to steal the taxpayer’s identity and financial assets. Typically, identity thieves use someone’s personal data to empty the victim’s financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name and even file fraudulent tax returns.

When the IRS learns of new schemes involving use of the IRS name or logo, it issues consumer alerts warning taxpayers about the schemes.

The IRS also has established an electronic mailbox for taxpayers to send information about suspicious e-mails they receive which claim to come from the IRS. Taxpayers should send the information to phishing@irs.gov. Instructions on how to properly submit possibly fraudulent e-mails to the IRS may be found on the IRS web site at www.irs.gov. This mailbox is only for suspicious e-mails, not general taxpayer inquiries.

More than 7,000 bogus e-mails have been forwarded to the IRS, with nearly 1,300 forwarded in June alone. Due to the volume or e-mails the mailbox receives, the IRS cannot acknowledge receipt or reply to taxpayers who submit possibly bogus e-mails.

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