Here's the bad news about any unexpected good news you receive in an e-mail from the Internal Revenue Service: It's probably bogus. For example, the IRS will not contact you via e-mail, out of the blue, about a refund you didn't know you had coming. Yet, people fall for this scam again and again. Some have received e-mails--with convincing IRS logos--that display a refund amount and a link you must click on to get the refund.
The link leads to a mock-IRS Web page form that requires financial information, such as a Social Security and bank account number, user ID, password, mother's maiden name, and the like. Victims enter this information, press "submit," and presto! Another identity thief now has the means to make a bank balance disappear.
The bogus IRS e-mail is an example of "phishing," which can lead to identity theft. It occurs when scammers use an authentic-looking e-mail to trick recipients into supplying personal financial data.
Don't take the bait—it's expensive
Although phishing accounts for only a fraction of the Internet fraud committed each year, its sting goes deep. Here are a few clues that an e-mail may be from an IRS imposter:
- Poor spelling and grammar: Most phishing e-mails traced by the IRS originate outside the United States. Look for grammar and spelling mistakes or unusual words and sentence structures.
- No forewarning: The IRS does not make initial contact with taxpayers via e-mail. Agents do correspond via e-mail, such as during some audit situations, but that doesn't happen unless you give provide them with your e-mail address first.
- Your gut reaction: If it sounds too good to be true—it probably is.
Don't guess—ask the experts
The best thing to do if you're unsure whether an e-mail regarding taxes is legitimate is to check at irs.gov, call your local IRS office, or forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Not only can you find the truth there—you may alert the IRS to a criminal who can be shut down before scamming another victim.