Not too long ago, we cautioned you about being duped by Internet identity thieves. We want to remind you once again about this fast-growing threat and how to protect yourself from being a victim and avoid the immense amount of trouble and aggravation that accompanies identity theft.
As the tax-filing season approaches, the identity thieves are gearing up with tax scams to sucker you into providing them with your identity information, which they can then use to charge against your credit cards, tap your bank account, steal your tax refund, file a fraudulent tax return in your name . . . the list goes on and on.
These thieves are clever, and some even disguise e-mails to look as if they come from a government agency; the IRS banner has been used in many scams to steal taxpayer identities. For example, you may receive an e-mail with the IRS banner indicating that you have a refund coming and directing you to a web site where you are duped into revealing your identity to obtain the refund. During the holidays, scammers were sending out e-mails disguised as being sent by major department stores¾you may have received one indicating that you had won a gift card and asking you to reveal your financial information to receive the gift card.
The scams, known as phishing, have one goal: to trick you into revealing your personal and financial information. The scammers can then use that information¾such as your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card numbers¾to commit identity theft or steal your money.
Here are some tips you should know about phishing scams:
1. The IRS never asks for detailed personal and financial information such as personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords, or similar secret access information for credit card, bank, or other financial accounts.
2. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail to request personal or financial information. If you receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be a representative of the IRS or directing you to an IRS site:
• Do not reply to the message.
• Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
• Do not click on any links. If you clicked on links in a suspicious e-mail or phishing website and entered confidential information, you may have compromised your financial information. If you entered your credit card number, contact the credit card company for guidance. If you entered your banking information, contact the bank for the appropriate steps to take. The IRS website provides additional resources that can help. Visit the IRS website and enter the search term “identity theft” for additional information.
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 but you suspect it is bogus, do not provide any personal information on the suspicious site.
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 he or she is not an IRS employee, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine whether the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you. Report any bogus correspondence. You can forward suspicious e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions or doubts related to a letter, phone call, or e-mail from the IRS or other taxing authorities, please call this office before responding or providing any financial or personal information. Better safe than sorry!