A Financial Revolution 

March 04, 2006
Phishing for Taxpayers
Last week, the Washington Post reported that government officials are seeing a new IRS-themed email scam each week. Most of the scams involve an email advising that the recipient is under investigation or due a refund. The emails contain links that direct the recipient to a phony, IRS-look-a-like web site that asks for personal data.

Five Cent Nickel dissected one of these scam emails several months ago and commented that it was one of the most convincing scams he had seen. These scams are likely to proliferate not only because taxes are on everyone's mind this time of year, but also because the pool of victims is larger than for other scams (e.g., PayPal, MBNA).

If you see one of these emails, it's important to remember that the IRS doesn't send unsolicited emails. (When was the last time the IRS asked for your email?) The consumer alert on phishing, ID theft and scams on the IRS site advises:
  • Be skeptical of communications you receive from sources you are not expecting. Verify the authenticity of phone calls, standard mail, faxes or e-mails of questionable origin before responding.
  • Do not reveal secret passwords, PINs or other security-based data to third parties; genuine organizations or institutions do not need your secret data for ordinary business transactions.
  • Do not click on links contained in possibly questionable e-mails; instead, go directly to the site already know to be genuine. For example, the only address for the IRS Web site is www.irs.gov — any other variations on this will not lead to the legitimate IRS Web site.
  • Do not open attachments to e-mails of possibly questionable origin, since they may contain viruses that will infect your computer.
  • Shred paper documents containing private financial information before discarding.

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