Unexpected Refund Coming From the IRS? Be Skeptical

National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) Appleton, WI – Fraud perpetrators have found the perfect means to intimidate taxpayers into filling out legitimate-looking, but phony, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) forms – using the threat of government action or loss of tax refunds if you don’t respond. The latest e-mail scam uses the Treasury Department's Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), which is used by more than six million taxpayers to pay their federal ataxes online or by phone, as a hook to lure individuals into disclosing their personal information.

Between November 2005 and July 2006, IRS uncovered 104 different fraudulent websites that posed as IRS sites to collect personal information from taxpayers. If you get an e-mail that appears to be from the IRS, DON’T fall for the deception. The same goes for phone calls. Scammers have become very adept at appearing and sounding authentic.

“The IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails asking for personal information,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. “Don’t be taken in by these criminals.” In fact, the IRS corresponds by sending a mailed letter to a taxpayer’s last known address. If you are worried or unsure about any IRS-related correspondence, bring a copy to a tax professional, who is trained to help. Harley Snyder, an NATP member from Charlotte, NC, confides, “One taxpayer brings questionable items to me every few weeks. I’m glad to help sort out the good from the bad."

Those who operate scams are called phishers. Victims caught in their nets can end up feeling like they’ve been skinned, gutted, and battered. The scams perpetrated by phishers all have one thing in common; they gather personal information for use in defrauding victims. In fact, the simple act of clicking on a fraudulent e-mail verifies a working e-mail address and allows the transfer of malware to your computer. Malware is programming that collects and sends information such as credit card numbers, PIN numbers, and passwords to databases at remote locations. Unfortunately, the IRS is only one of many aliases that fraudulent phishers use to obtain personal information for purposes such as raiding bank accounts, opening charge cards, acquiring cell phones, and unethically harming unsuspecting individuals. Those who provide the information requested become victims of identity fraud and find themselves in a distressing cycle of harassment from collection agencies, difficulties obtaining credit, job loss, and even arrest; all in addition to monetary losses and mental trauma.

“To protect yourself from having your identity stolen, guard your personal information, and always verify the validity of any forms or correspondence requesting you to divulge personal information,” advises Cindy Hockenberry, enrolled agent and tax information analyst with the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP). “If you have any question at all, look up the number and call the organization that sent the correspondence BEFORE supplying any information. Do not rely
on phone numbers or e-mail addresses provided with correspondence. Be suspicious of any unsolicited correspondence that requests the following types of information:- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Passport number
- Bank name
- Credit card information
- Account number, type, and date opened
- E-mail address
- Occupation
- Daytime phone number
- Frequency of U.S. visits
- Information about spouses, children, and parents.”

Any website that collects personal information should contain “https” in the URL address at the top (the s indicates that it is a secure site). It should also have a padlock in the lower right corner of the screen in your browser’s status bar. Double-click on the padlock to see the website’s security certificate. Certificates show the owner of the website in the “Issued to” line. An @ sign, “under construction,” or “cannot be located” in this line is reason for suspicion. The certificate should also show dates with a range of only a few years in the “Valid from” line (such as 7/29/05 – 7/29/07). Another way to view this information is by going to File, Properties on your menu bar. If there is ANY question in your mind about any site, do not use the link. Instead, login to the site directly (such as www.irs.gov), and find phone numbers to call. Be safe, not sorry.

Check the validity of any IRS forms with a tax professional or on the criminal enforcement page of the IRS website at www.irs.gov. Forward any suspicious IRS-related e-mail to phishing@irs.gov. Fraudulent form information should go to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at fax 202.927.7018, or mail to TIGTA Hotline, P.O. Box 589, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044-0589. TIGTA’s website is www.ustreas.gov/tigta, and their phone number is 1.800.366.4484.

New forms and methods to perpetrate fraud show up every day. Be aware and safeguard your personal information. To report suspected attempts at identity theft, or if you feel you may be a victim of fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and follow the steps listed on their website: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/. The FTC phone number is 877.FTC.HELP.


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