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Resources (IRS E-Mail Scams)

By Mary Loos, Managing Attorney for Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc., and
Clinic Director for Legal Aid of Arkansas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic

IRS never initiates communications with taxpayers through e-mail.  Furthermore, the IRS does not request detailed personal information through e-mail.  More importantly, IRS will not ask taxpayers for the PINs, passwords or other access information for their credit cards, bank or other financial account information.  The official website for the IRS is www.irs.gov.

E-mails falsely claiming to originate from IRS often contain e-mail addresses that sound legitimate, such as tax-refunds@irs.gov, admin@irs.gov, and similar variations.  Recent e-mails abound that falsely notify recipients that they are eligible to receive tax refunds for a specified amount.  Other fraudulent e-mail scams include so-called notices of how to get advance payment of economic stimulus payments, solicitations for donations to California wildfire victims, cash offered for participating in a satisfaction survey, payments using the electronic federal tax payment system, notifications of changes in tax laws, and new ones crop up every season.  The IRS is aware of more than 1,500 different e-mail scams to date.

These e-mails are commonly referred to as phishing schemes, and were developed by identity thieves to trick you into giving them your personal identification information and secret financial data.  Identity theft occurs when someone else uses your personal information without your permission in order to perpetrate fraud or commit other crimes.  Personal information includes your name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, passport or other personally identifying information. 

Recipients of recent phishing e-mails are directed to claim tax refunds or rebates by clicking on a link in the e-mail that takes the consumer to what appears to be a legitimate IRS website, but it is not genuine.  Once at the deceptive website, an interactive web page is displayed.  The bogus web page requests personal and financial information that genuine IRS interactive web pages do not require.  It is all part of an elaborate attempt by identity thieves to steal your identity and empty your bank accounts; run up charges on your existing credit cards’ apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in your name; file fraudulent tax returns; or commit crimes using your identity.  Identity theft can affect your credit and your ability to get a job, or to get a home mortgage or consumer loans, your education, your ability to rent an apartment, to buy a car, or it can even affect your personal freedom if you are arrested for a crime you did not commit.

Potential victims are sometimes contacted by identity thieves posing as IRS employees.  The targets are informed that they must provide their SSNs and bank account numbers (or other information) in order to get their tax refunds or rebate payments.  The thieves claim that the IRS needs the information to complete the processing of the taxpayer’s economic stimulus payment.  Unwilling targets are informed that their rebate cannot be sent unless the information is provided.  In truth, the IRS uses the information contained on the taxpayer’s tax return to process economic stimulus payments.  The only way to get an economic stimulus payment is to file a 2007 tax return.  Taxpayers should be aware that no additional forms are required to be filled out to get their economic stimulus payments or have them directly deposited to their accounts.  Taxpayers are urged to be extra-vigilant because the IRS will not contact taxpayers by telephone or e-mail about their economic stimulus payments.  Likewise, no separate application forms are needed to receive a tax refund.

If you receive a suspicious e-mail that purports to be from the IRS asking you for personal information, do not open any attachments because they may contain malware, a malicious code that will infect your computer.  Do not click on e-mail links or open e-mail attachments because they may activate a Trojan Horse.  A Trojan Horse is a form of malware that allows an identity thief to take over your computer’s hard drive and gives the thief remote access to your computer.

If you receive an unsolicited e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, you can forward the original message the IRS electronic mailbox at phishing@irs.gov.  Due to the volume of reports that the IRS receives daily, you may not receive an individual response to your submission.  If suspicious e-mails are properly reported with internet headers included, IRS can use critical elements contained in the original e-mails, URLs and links contained in suspicious e-mails to trace them back to the fictitious websites.  The e-mails can be used to alert authorities and help shut down fraudulent websites.  You may also report the misuse of the IRS’s name, logos, forms or other IRS property to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration toll-free at 1-800-366-4484.

What to do if you suspect your identity is stolen
If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, you should report it as soon as you are aware of it.  The longer you wait to report identity theft, the more damage to your credit and reputation that will be done.  It can take months or years and hundreds or thousands, and more, of your hard-earned dollars to repair the damage identity thieves can do to your good name in a matter of minutes.

If you believe your identity was stolen and used fraudulently for tax purposes, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) and file a complaint.  You can also forward suspicious e-mails to the Federal Trade Commission at: spam@uce.gov.  The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations.  The FTC is the lead government agency for information about identity theft.

Contact the fraud department of any one of the three major credit reporting agencies.  Ask the credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit file.  This will require creditors to contact you before any changes are made to your existing accounts or any new accounts are opened.  Your credit reports will be sent to you free of charge so you can review the information to be sure it is correct.  Close any accounts that you believe were tampered with or fraudulently opened.  Call your financial institutions and have your accounts flagged.

Contact your local law enforcement agency and file a police report.  Submit a copy of the report to your creditors and any other agencies that may require proof of the crime.

How identity theft affects your tax records
Undocumented workers or other individuals may use your SSN to get a job.  If that happens, that person’s employer will report wages or commissions earned to the IRS using your information.  It may appear that you did not report all of your income on your return, which could result in a higher tax liability or a reduction in an expected tax refund.  The IRS will contact you for any back taxes owed on income earned by another but reported using your SSN.

Identity thieves may file a fraudulent tax return using your SSN to receive a refund before you file your return.  If that happens, the IRS is likely to think that the return you submitted is merely a duplicate.

If you receive a notice from the IRS that leads you to believe your SSN has been used fraudulently, you should notify the IRS immediately.  Contact the IRS representative named at the telephone number printed on the notice or letter.  Consider possible identity theft if the notice or letter you receive from the IRS states that more than one tax return was filed for you, or IRS records indicate that you received wages from an employer you did not work for. 

Remember that the IRS never initiates any requests for personal taxpayer information through e-mail.  If you receive an e-mail request of this type, be alerted that it may be an attempt from identity thieves to get your private tax or financial information.

If you do not prepare your own tax returns, use caution in selecting your tax preparer because the tax preparer you choose will have access to your personal identifying information and financial records.  Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers or who guarantee results or base their fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund.

If you are a low income taxpayer who cannot afford professional tax assistance or if you speak English as a second language (ESL) and need help understanding your tax rights and responsibilities, you may qualify for help from the Legal Aid of Arkansas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LAA LITC).  LAA LITC is not associated with the federal government and services are free to qualifying individuals.  Eligibility for one-on-one consultations is based on income guidelines and other criteria.  Appointments for individual consultations are available.  To access services prospective clients should contact an LAA LITC representative at 1-800-234-3544, or 442-0600, ext. 4315.

 


   
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