The Internal Revenue Service does not need to contact a person by phone or e-mail for their personal or financial information, but scam artists do.
IRS Media Relations Specialist Jodie Reynolds told the Brazil Times Wednesday scam artists have become very sophisticated in committing criminal activity, even going as far as using official IRS logos and language to make their e-mails look official.
"The IRS isn't going to call or e-mail you for your personal information, we already have it," Reynolds said. "We also don't need your financial information to give you a refund either. A big key to spotting e-mail fraud is the websites are not our official site. The only real IRS website is the one at irs.gov."
With a goal of tricking people into revealing personal and financial information, scam artists use e-mails (and sometime through phone calls) to attempt to contact victims about potential refunds and rebates as bait to get information.
"The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers through e-mail or by telephone," Reynolds said. "If there is a reason to contact an individual, the IRS will do so by letter first."
Scam artists also try to use the threat of audits, that they are collecting the information because of changes in tax laws and that they need the information to check on the progress of a paper check issued to a taxpayer by the IRS.
Once a scammer gets a person's Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, they use it to commit identity theft and potentially empty a victim's financial accounts. They could also run up charges on the victim's existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim's name, file fraudulent tax returns or even commit crimes.
With most of these fraudulent activities being committed electronically in cyberspace from a remote location, scammers are able to act quickly and cover their tracks before the victim becomes aware of the problem.
Victims of identity theft could spend years trying to clean up the mess scammers make of their reputations and credit records, while, in the meantime, they may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars or even be arrested for crimes the victim didn't commit.
Reynolds said those who have received a questionable e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should read an article on IRS.gov titled "How to Protect Yourself from Suspicious E-Mails or Phishing Schemes." The e-mail should then be forwarded to a mailbox the IRS has established to receive such e-mails, firstname.lastname@example.org. Following the instructions will help the IRS track the suspicious e-mail to its origins and shut down the scam.
Anyone wishing to access the IRS Web site should initiate contact by typing the IRS.gov address into his or her Internet address window. Officials say people should not click on a link or open an attachment in a suspicious e-mail, which could download "malware" onto the recipient's computer.
According to officials, malware is malicious code that can take over the victim's computer hard drive, giving someone remote access, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.
Those who have received a questionable telephone call that claims to come from the IRS may also use the email@example.com mailbox to notify the IRS of the scam.
"Scamming is a national problem, and scammers act quickly," Reynolds said. "Although the government just passed the economic stimulus package (Wednesday), there have already been reports of scammers using the rebates as bait."