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Phishing Scams – What Should You Look Out For?

August 18, 2014

Alan T. Huberman, CPA, MST
Partner

What is phishing?

Phishing is a scam typically carried out by unsolicited telephone calls, emails and/or websites that pose as legitimate sites and lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information. Recently, headlines have shared phishing scams involving people claiming to be from the IRS.

It is important to know that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by telephone or email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

Any unsolicited email claiming to be from either the IRS or any other IRS-related components such as the Office of Professional Responsibility or EFTPS, should be reported to phishing@irs.gov. You can also report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

Back in April, the IRS reiterated its warning of a pervasive telephone scam and warned consumers to guard against sophisticated and aggressive phone scams targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, as reported incidents of this crime continue to rise nationwide. These scams, as we have seen, continue beyond the normal tax filing season so the IRS urges everyone to remain on guard at all times.

The IRS will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail. The IRS never requests credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone. For more information or to report a scam, go to www.irs.gov and type "scam" in the search box.

Most recently, people have reported a particularly aggressive phone scam (Boston Herald, P.24, August 6, 2014). Potential victims are threatened with deportation, arrest, having their utilities shut off or having their driver’s licenses revoked. Callers are frequently insulting or hostile, apparently to scare their potential victims.

Potential victims may be told they are entitled to big refunds, or that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of this scam include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

For more information, please contact Alan Huberman at ahuberman@blumshapiro.com or 617.658.5220.

Any written tax content, comments, or advice contained in this article is limited to the matters specifically set forth herein. Such content, comments, or advice may be based on tax statues, regulations, and administrative and judicial interpretations thereof and we have no obligation to update any content, comments or advice for retroactive or prospective changes to such authorities. This communication is not intended to address the potential application of penalties and interest, for which the taxpayer is responsible, that may be imposed for non-compliance with tax law.

 

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