Phishing for Taxpayers

Its tax time and the April 15th deadline will be here before you know it. Taxpayers across the country are grumbling their way through piles of paperwork and stacks of receipts, wishing there were an easier way. Internet scammers are hard at work too, figuring out new ways to capitalize on all that frustration, stress and procrastination. They’re sending phishy emails, designing fake websites, and dreaming up phone scams to trick you into giving them your personally identifiable information—the key ingredient in identity theft.

The Internal Revenue Service warns taxpayers about these scams every year, but the fraudsters are quick to adjust. Here are the most recent scams the IRS has warned against:

Phishing for Taxpayers

Online con artists can send emails that look like they originated from the IRS. Click on the link in the email and you’ll end up at a fraudulent web page that looks real. Some versions of this scam—more than 1,500 have been reported to the IRS—ask taxpayers to file their taxes via an online claim form, other versions ask them “confirm” their bank account information so that their refund can be released. Still others contain notice of an upcoming audit. Regardless of the reason given, if you provide the requested information you may soon find your accounts emptied or your identity stolen.

Economic Stimulus Payment Scams

Perpetrated via a phishy email or a fraudulent phone call, these scams capitalize on confusion surrounding the federal government’s economic stimulus package. By now you probably know that you may be getting a stimulus payment in the coming months but may not know how or when the payment will arrive. Potential victims of this scam are told that they’ve qualified for their stimulus “rebate” and are asked to provide their bank account number to receive the payment electronically. In reality, you won’t have to do anything more than file a federal tax return to receive your payment, and the IRS will never call or email you about the economic stimulus payment.

Fraudulent Tax Preparation Services

If you’re considering using a tax preparer you found online, be sure to thoroughly research the business first, and be wary of claims that sound too good to be true. A con artist only needs a reasonably good-looking website to pose as a tax preparer. Hooked by such a scammer, you might end up paying outrageous fees or signing away a share of your return. You could also end up in legal trouble, on the hook for tax fraud, if the return they filed for you included false claims or illegal deductions.

Changing Tax Law

Some cyber scammers are using fake email updates about tax law changes to trick accountants, corporate bookkeepers and other financial professionals into downloading malware—malicious software—that could compromise their computer systems and the privacy of their employers and clients. If you receive such an email you’ll be instructed to click on various links to download updates about estate taxes, tax-exempt organizations, retirement plans, etc. Clicking the links will actually cause you to download a computer virus, a key-logger that monitors your activities and records your password, or some other similar program. Visit our Safeguarding Your Computer page to learn about protecting your computer.
  1. Brian Krebs, Washington Post, “IRS Warns of Scam to Steal Data with Offer of Tax Rebate,” January 31, 2008.