Automation, including the magic of email, is a fantastic thing. That is, until criminals use that magical email to scam you out of your hard-earned money. Far too many email “phishing” scams exist. You’ve probably gotten at least one message luring you to click on a link to funds in a bank you’ve never banked with. That’s bad enough. To me, the most insidious phishing scams come from IRS imposters. Another one recently unleashed itself on U.S. taxpayers.
Last week, the IRS alerted taxpayers and the tax professional community to a new scam. They had received a high volume of taxpayer submissions to [email protected] about unsolicited emails from IRS imposters. Taxpayers reported various email subject lines, like “Automatic Income Tax Reminder” or “Electronic Tax Return Reminder.” That kind of subject line coming from what appears to be the IRS would scare anyone into opening and responding!
These taxpayer-reported emails include an IRS.gov-like link appearing to be about the taxpayer’s refund, electronic return or tax account. The emails contain a “temporary password” or “one-time password” to “access” the files and obtain the refund. But you can guess what happens next…when the taxpayer tries to access the file, it turns out to be malicious and infects her or his computer or device. Or, it asks for bank account and other personal information to access or transfer funds. Bad news, either way.
Protect yourself! Remember that the IRS does not send emails about your tax refund or sensitive financial information. Most IRS communication is still through the good old-fashioned USPS. Essentially, that means you should be suspicious of ANY email from the IRS. If you want to be absolutely sure, the easiest way to check for phishing is to place your cursor over the sender’s name, revealing the sender’s e-mail address. An address that doesn’t look legitimate is a scam.
No matter what, do not reply to any unsolicited email, texts or social media from the IRS (or anyone else, for that matter) to request money or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.
Just in case you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS that contains a request for delinquent tax balances or financial information, immediately do the following:
- Don’t reply, open any attachments or click on any links.
- If it’s too late and you did something from #1, visit the IRS’ identity protection page.
- Forward the email as-is to the IRS at [email protected].
- Delete the original email.
Tax scams are a year-round business, so taxpayers need to be on-guard at all times for IRS imposters. Need to report an IRS imposter? See Report Phishing and Online Scams for more details.