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Archive for Monday, April 10, 2006

Fake IRS e-mails flooding inboxes

April 10, 2006

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It's hard to believe the e-mail message isn't from the IRS.

The logo looks real. The message appears to be sent from adminirs.gov. The "copyright 2006 IRS" at the end of the message seems authentic.

It may look like the IRS, but it's scammers who are swamping consumers' e-mail inboxes with messages notifying them of an audit or offering access to a refund.

The fraudsters' aim is to collect your Social Security number, credit card account number and bank information.

"We've seen an explosion of this scam this year," Nancy Mathis, an IRS spokeswoman, said.

In recent weeks, consumer complaints about the e-mail scams have been pouring in at the rate of about 100 a day on average, said Bonnie Heald, a spokeswoman at the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, which oversees IRS-related fraud, waste and abuse.

So far, TIGTA has found 12 Web sites operated in 18 countries perpetrating this or similar types of IRS-related fraud.

It's no wonder consumers get lured into providing sensitive data. One of the messages directs consumers to click on a link to collect their refund.

Not only does the message look authentic, but the Web site that appears when you click on the link looks eerily similar to the official IRS.gov Web page. Scammers copied the official IRS logo, and even the type font matches the IRS site.

And if you click on the "Home" button, it takes you to the official IRS site, at www.irs.gov.

The fake Web site also includes an authentic-looking privacy policy that says "Internal Revenue Code Section 6109 allows us to request your Social Security number."



Where to turn

To find out whether a communication you received from the IRS is legitimate, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. Ask for confirmation that the IRS is trying to contact you. To report a fraudulent e-mail purporting to be from the IRS, call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484. Or go to the Web site to complete an online complaint form, www.treas.gov/tigta/contact_report.shtml. Also, report any cases of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

The only oddities are the Web site address at the top of the page - which starts with "http://tzk.kozle.pl" - and the information requested, which includes your Social Security number and credit card information "where you want the refund to be made."

Taxpayers take note: The IRS generally does not send e-mail messages to taxpayers, Mathis said.

"We do not communicate with taxpayers via e-mail. We may send you a letter, we may call you, but we do not send out e-mail," she said.

She said the bulk of the scams have been through e-mail, though sometimes fraudsters will mail a regular letter, or even call taxpayers.

"If taxpayers get any communication that purports to be from the IRS and if they're not sure that it's a legitimate correspondence and it's asking for financial information, they need to call us and check it out," Mathis said.

"Some of these e-mail scams that I saw, they would not only ask for your bank account number, they would ask for your password to your bank account - something we would never ask for," she said.

Still, "we do communicate with taxpayers probably more frequently than people think. It's not just through audits," she said.

"People forget to sign their tax return, or they got their bank account information wrong on their direct deposit. There are a number of other reasons we would call people, but taxpayers need to double-check and bring some skepticism to these communications, not just with the IRS but with anyone calling and requesting financial information," Mathis said.

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