IRS Urges Caution With Email, Social Media And Phones

The Internal Revenue Service continues in its fight against cyber criminals and is constantly finding new ways that these criminals are obtaining information.  There is no limit to the means in which crimes can occur.  Whether through a telephone call, text message or email, the con artist tries to convince the recipient that they need to provide Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information or passwords. The scam may also include sending links that once clicked on can download malicious software that collects, or “mines”, personal data.

Often, criminals pose as someone the recipient knows or frequently interacts with, whether a social or family relationship or a business contact. They gather much of this information from social media. A person’s contacts or ‘friends’ are used to bait the recipient into thinking they’re dealing with someone they know.  The IRS warns taxpayers to be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, web sites and social media attempts to steal personal information.

Phishing scams target individuals with communications appearing to come from legitimate sources to collect victims’ personal and financial data and potentially infect their devices by convincing the target to download malicious programs. Cybercriminals usually send these phishing communications by email but may also use text messages or social media posts or messaging.

These phishing schemes can be tricky and cleverly disguised to look like they’re from the IRS or from others in the tax community. Taxpayers are reminded to continually watch out for emails and other scams posing as the IRS, like those promising a big refund, missing stimulus payment or even issuing a threat. People should not open attachments or click on links in those emails or text messages.

Individuals should be wary of unexpected phone calls asking for personal financial information. The IRS has seen an increase in voice-related phishing, or “vishing,” particularly from scams related to federal tax liens. For those receiving phone calls out of the blue, security experts recommend asking questions of the caller but not providing any personal information. If in doubt, hang up immediately.

The IRS urges taxpayers to remain vigilant and to remember the following things about the IRS:

  • The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes.
  • The IRS may attempt to reach individuals by telephone but will not insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order or wire transfer.
  • The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text or social media.

Recipients of these calls should hang up before giving out any information. If anyone receives an unexpected call from the IRS that they believe to be a scam, they can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

Social media scams have also led to tax-related identity theft. The basic element of social media scams is convincing a potential victim that he or she is dealing with a person close to them that they trust via email, text or social media messaging.

Using personal information, a scammer may email a potential victim and include a link to something of interest to the recipient, but which contains malware intended to commit more crimes. Scammers also infiltrate their victim’s emails and cell phones to go after their friends and family with fake emails that appear to be real, and text messages soliciting, for example, small donations to fake charities that are appealing to the victims.

Individuals should know that any of their information that is publicly shared on social media platforms can be collected and used against them. One way to circumvent these scams is to review privacy settings and limit data that is publicly shared.

The IRS reminds taxpayers to keep abreast of news about fraud-related behavior. Report any instances of fraud immediately.

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About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner®, and a Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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