The IRS Dirty Dozen 2015, #2: Phishing

As we mentioned in post #1 of this series on the IRS Dirty Dozen tax scams, the IRS only initiates contact with taxpayers by postal (snail) mail – never by phone, email, SMS or social media channels.  In this post, we will discuss another big tax scam to look out for – phishing, which has been a consistent member of the IRS “Dirty Dozen” for a number of years.

What is phishing?

In the mid-1990s, hackers coined the term “phishing” to describe hooks they set to obtain the AOL passwords and financial information of internet users. Today, cybercriminals not only use unsolicited emails and/or fake websites to get you to provide them with your personal and financial information, they also use them to install malicious code on your computer and mobile phone.

Phishing examples

Phishing emails are often sent by someone claiming to be from the IRS. Over the years, these emails have taken many forms, such as:

  • Email from the “Internal Revenue Service Antifraud Comission [sic]” claiming that someone has attempted to use your bank card to pay taxes and your account has been blocked
  • Email directing you to visit a website that looks like the legitimate IRS “Where’s My Refund?” site, where instead of obtaining information you are directed to input your credit card information.
  • Email offering you $80 to fill out an IRS customer satisfaction survey.
  • Email appearing to be from the IRS asking you to make a donation to a charitable cause. (The IRS does not solicit charitable contributions).
  • Email offering you a tax refund through the completion of an online form. (The only way to obtain a refund is by filing an annual tax return). 
  • Email claiming that you are under criminal investigation for filing a false tax return to the IRS or California Franchise Tax Board. Clicking on the link or attachment may release a Trojan horse that gives the hacker control over your computer.

What to do with phishing emails

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS or one of its affiliated organizations such as the Taxpayer Advocate, Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, etc.:

  • Don’t reply
  • Don’t click on links
  • Don’t open attachments
  • Forward the email to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov
  • Delete the email

If you have a genuine tax issue and require legal assistance, contact the dedicated San Francisco tax attorneys at Moskowitz LLP

#3 on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams is Identity Theft, which we will cover in our next blog post in this series.

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