The most pervasive IRS scam e-mail in circulation relates to economic stimulus payments. In reality, to receive the stimulus payment from the IRS most taxpayers had to do nothing beyond filing their federal tax return. Criminals are posing as IRS representatives to try to trick taxpayers into revealing personal financial information to receive the stimulus money; often referred to as a "rebate" in these scam e-mails.
The alleged IRS e-mails, soliciting personal financial information, are classic "phishing" scams. Phishing is a tactic used by internet-based thieves to trick unsuspecting victims into providing personal financial information, which is then used to access the victim's accounts. Thieves use the victim's information to liquidate financial accounts; apply for loans or credit in the victim's name; and, sell this valuable information to other thieves.
Here are some tips to spot scam e-mails:
1. Phishing e-mails often purport to be sent from prominent financial institutions or government agencies, but the websites associated with the e-mails do not match those of the real website. If you suspect an e-mail to be fraudulent, do not click on the embedded website, rather, search for the company or agency independently on the internet. Contact the company or agency through the "contact us" option link, from your independent web search.
2. No financial institution or government agency will ever ask you for sensitive personal financial information via e-mail. Nor will any financial institution or government agency ask you to verify information via e-mail.
3. Phony e-mails often contain broken English and are riddled with grammatical errors.
4. Stick to the old adage, "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is." Common "too good to be true" scams include foreign lottery winnings; work-from-home scams; secret shopper; and, "high return" investment opportunities.
Also be very weary of any circumstance that involves the buying/selling of items over the internet where the individual you are dealing with offers to send you a check that is for a sum other than the amount agreed upon for the item that is to be bought or sold. These types of scams usually require the person receiving the check to cash it and send the excess funds to the sender. It can take up to 14 days for the check to be verified as fraudulent which will result in you owing the money back to bank and possibly even face criminal charges.
The Postal Inspection Service is working on shutting down this scheme. If you have information on this or similar cases, please contact the Postal Inspection Service or call 1-877-876-2455, option 3.
Please remember these tips:
1. Never give out personal information over the phone or Internet unless you initiate the call. Financial institutions, law enforcement and government will not call you and ask for social security, bank or other forms of ID numbers.
2. If you are notified that you have won a prize/lottery or other sum of money and are asked to send money to pay for taxes or fees. Do not, this is a scam that initially originated in Nigeria. Ask the subject doing the notification if they will meet you in person. This will usually result in you being hung up on.
3. If you wish to donate money to good causes, ask where your money is going. Legitimate charities will donate 60% or more, the rest goes for their overhead expenses. Do not be persuaded to part with your money without first knowing where it’s going.
4. The Internet has many traps. Avoid using quick links as hackers use these to route you to their web site. It may be in the guise of a bank, business or credit card company. Always type in the web site yourself. Predators use the Internet quite effectively. Monitor what your child is saying on the Internet. They can be naive about the dangers and can give out personal information about credit cards, where they live or go to school. If the screen goes blank when you walk into the room, they spend more and more time on the computer, or their demeanor changes, those can be warning signs that all is not well. The Internet will not protect you or your family. It is up to you.
If you have been a victim of a scam or fraud, report it immediately and follow up with a visit to the the Federal Trade Commission website.