Here’s the bad news about any unexpected good news you receive in an email from the Internal Revenue Service: It’s probably bogus. For example, the IRS will not contact you via email, out of the blue, about a refund you didn’t know you had coming. But, people fall for this scam again and again. Some have received emails–with convincing IRS logos–that display a refund amount and a link you must click on to get the refund.
The link leads to a mock-IRS Web page form that requires financial information, such as a Social Security and bank account number, user ID, password, mother’s maiden name, and the like. Victims enter this information, press “submit,” and Presto! Another identity thief now has the means to make a bank balance disappear.
The bogus IRS email is an example of “phishing,” which can lead to identity theft. It occurs when scammers use an authentic-looking email to trick recipients into supplying personal financial data.
Some scams go as far as creating fake tax sites that include the IRS logo. This is a technique to make the victim feel more comfortable submitting their personal information.
A tax scam call will be pre-recorded in many cases, or you will get a live call that sounds urgent or threatening. Scammers can also spoof caller ID numbers to make it seem that they are calling from anywhere in the country. This spoofing method can also appear to come from law enforcement or federal agencies to help convince the victim the call is coming from the IRS.
Don’t take the bait—it’s expensive
The IRS and any authorized collection agencies will never do any of the following:
- Demand payments in for form of gift cards, pre-paid cards, or wire transfers. Payments will typically be requested via mail.
- Ask for payment to be made payable for any third-party business other than the U.S. Treasury.
- Threaten to call law enforcement for not paying.
- Deny requests for appeals or questions regarding the amount owed.
- Ask for debit or credit card payment information over the phone.
- They will ask you to confirm your Social Security Number.
- Send links to fake URLs. Scammers can rename a link in an email, so always be sure to hover over a link to reveal the real URL before clicking.
- Ask for a copy of your W-2 to file your return.
Don’t guess—ask the experts
The best thing to do if you’re unsure whether an email or call regarding taxes is legitimate is to check at irs.gov, call your local IRS office or forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Not only can you find the truth there—you may alert the IRS to a criminal who can be shut down before scamming another victim.