‘Tis the season for IRS scams. Although scammers impersonate the IRS year-round, the frequency of these scams increases substantially during tax season. Most IRS scams are identity theft schemes, in which the scammer poses as the IRS to deceive victims into handing over personal information. The scammers’ goal is to access a victim’s financial information, such as bank account and credit card numbers, passwords, and PINS and social security numbers, for purposes of stealing financial accounts. When it comes to avoiding these scams, the IRS has some recommendations:
Recognizing a Scam
It can be hard to recognize a scam when you’re faced with one. Most commonly, IRS scams happen via email, and they can be sophisticated. Here are some signs to be aware of:
- A request for personal information such as your mother’s maiden name, a bank account or PIN number
- An offer of an incentive in exchange for providing information, like a faster tax refund or payment for taking a survey
- A threat of a penalty, an increased tax bill, or other trouble if you fail to respond with the requested information
- An email containing a link to a Web site that does not actually belong to the IRS. The real IRS web address is http://irs.gov
- Errors in spelling or grammar within the email
The Refund Scam
One of the most common IRS scams is the “refund scam,” with which an identity thief tries to steal your personal information by sending you an email promising a tax refund if you’ll fill out a claim form. The claim form is either attached to the email or the email contains a link to the form. Of course, the form requests your personal financial information, which is then stolen.
In recognizing this request as a scam, it’s important to understand that the IRS doesn’t require taxpayers to complete an additional claim form in order to receive a tax refund. If you’re due a refund, it will be sent to you as a result of your filing the appropriate income tax return; there’s no additional paperwork required.
What to Do
So, what should you do if you receive an email that you suspect is an IRS scam?
First, don’t open any attachments. They can contain malware, a malicious program that can infect your computer.
Second, don’t click on any links within the body of the email. A link could contain malware, or it could take you to a false but convincing website designed to get you to provide your personal financial information.
Third, instead of responding to the email, check with the actual IRS. Go to www.irs.gov and access the Where’s My Refund? tool. This will let verify whether you’re due a refund and when you can expect it.
Finally, report the scam to the IRS by forwarding the email to email@example.com. After you’ve done this, delete the email from your account.