The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) phishing scams are a form of cybercrime where scammers send fraudulent emails or messages posing as the IRS to trick individuals into providing sensitive information. These scams can have serious consequences, such as identity theft, financial loss, and damage to credit scores.
It is important to be aware of how to protect yourself from these scams, as they are becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread. In 2021, the IRS reported a surge in phishing and other cyberattacks, with more than 5,000 victims and losses of over $30 million. As such, knowing how to identify and prevent these scams can help individuals safeguard their personal and financial information from being compromised.
In this article, we will discuss the threat of IRS phishing scams and the importance of being aware of how to protect yourself from them. We will also provide tips and best practices for avoiding IRS phishing scams and responding to them if you do fall victim to one.
II. What is Phishing?
Phishing is a type of cybercrime that involves the use of fraudulent emails, text messages, or websites to trick individuals into providing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers. The goal of phishing is to steal personal or financial information that can be used for fraudulent purposes such as identity theft or financial fraud.
Phishing scams are typically carried out by hackers who create fake emails, text messages, or websites that appear to be from legitimate sources such as banks, online retailers, or government agencies. These messages may contain a sense of urgency, such as claiming that the recipient’s account has been compromised or that they are owed a refund, in an attempt to convince the recipient to take immediate action.
One type of phishing scam that has become increasingly common in recent years is the IRS phishing scam. This type of scam targets individuals by posing as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the agency responsible for collecting taxes in the United States.
IRS phishing scams work by sending out fraudulent emails or making fraudulent phone calls to individuals, claiming that they owe money to the IRS or that they are entitled to a refund. The message may instruct the recipient to click on a link or provide personal information, such as their Social Security number, in order to receive the refund or avoid penalties.
The consequences of falling for an IRS phishing scam can be severe. If the recipient clicks on a link or provides personal information, the hacker may be able to steal their identity, access their bank accounts, or file a fraudulent tax return in their name. In addition, the recipient may be subject to penalties or fines for failing to pay taxes that they do in fact owe.
III. How to Protect Yourself from Phishing Scams
To protect yourself from IRS phishing scams and other types of phishing scams, it is important to be aware of the following best practices:
- Be cautious of unsolicited messages: If you receive an email, text message, or phone call from an unknown or suspicious source, do not provide any personal information. Instead, contact the organization directly using a trusted phone number or email address.
- Check the sender’s email address: Phishing emails often have a fake or misleading sender address. Before clicking on any links or providing any information, check the sender’s email address to ensure that it is from a legitimate source.
- Look for signs of a scam: Phishing emails may contain spelling or grammatical errors, use threatening or urgent language, or have unusual formatting. Be on the lookout for these signs of a scam and delete any suspicious messages.
- Install anti-virus software: Anti-virus software can help protect your computer and personal information from phishing attacks. Make sure that your anti-virus software is up-to-date and run regular scans of your computer.
- Educate yourself: Stay informed about the latest phishing scams and how to protect yourself from them. The IRS provides information on their website about how to recognize and report IRS phishing scams.
By following these best practices, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to IRS phishing scams and other types of phishing scams. Remember, it is always better to be cautious and skeptical of unsolicited messages than to provide personal information that could be used for fraudulent purposes.
Also Read: What is EITC?
III. Reporting IRS-Related Phishing Emails
It’s crucial to report phishing emails to the IRS to help prevent scammers from victimizing others. Reporting these scams can also help law enforcement track down the culprits and bring them to justice. Here are the steps you can take to report an IRS-related phishing email:
Do not reply to the email, click any links, or download any attachments. Doing so could put your computer and personal information at risk.
Forward the email to the IRS at email@example.com. This email address is monitored by the IRS and allows them to investigate and take action against the scammers.
If you’ve fallen victim to an IRS phishing scam and have suffered a monetary loss, report it to both the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The process for reporting a monetary loss varies depending on the situation. Here are the steps you can take:
If you’ve received a phishing email and have clicked a link or provided personal information, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and report the incident. The IRS will assist you in taking the appropriate steps to protect your identity and minimize any damage.
If you’ve been scammed out of money, report the incident to TIGTA by calling 1-800-366-4484 or by using their online complaint form at TIGTA.gov. You can also report the incident to the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or by using their online complaint form at FTC.gov.
It’s important to report monetary losses as soon as possible to increase the chances of recovering your money and catching the scammers. Be sure to provide as much detail as possible when reporting the incident, including any emails, phone numbers, or other information you may have about the scammers.
IV. What to do if you Receive a Suspicious IRS-Related Email
If you receive a suspicious email that appears to be from the IRS, it is important to take immediate action to protect yourself from falling victim to a phishing scam. Here are the steps you should take:
- Do not open any attachments or click on any links in the email. Phishing emails often contain links or attachments that, if opened, can install malware on your computer or direct you to a fake website that is designed to steal your personal information.
- Do not reply to the email or provide any personal information. The IRS will never request personal information such as your Social Security number or financial account numbers via email.
- Forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This will help the IRS to investigate the scam and take action to prevent others from falling victim to it.
- Delete the email from your inbox and from your trash or deleted items folder.
- If you have already clicked on a link or opened an attachment from a suspicious email, there are additional steps you should take to protect your personal information and your computer:
- Run a virus scan on your computer using your antivirus software.
- Change your passwords for any accounts that may have been compromised.
- Monitor your financial accounts and credit reports for any suspicious activity.
- Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports to prevent identity theft.
If you have suffered a monetary loss as a result of an IRS phishing scam, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). TIGTA is responsible for investigating tax-related identity theft and other scams involving the IRS, while the FTC collects complaints about fraudulent activity and shares them with law enforcement agencies. You can report a monetary loss to TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or online at tigta.gov, and to the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
V. What to do if you Receive a Suspicious IRS-Related Telephone Call
If you receive a suspicious phone call claiming to be from the IRS, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Verify the Caller’s Identity: It is important to confirm the caller’s identity before providing any information. Ask for the caller’s name, badge number, and a call-back number. Legitimate IRS representatives will be happy to provide you with this information.
- Do not Provide Personal Information: Do not provide any personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account or credit card information over the phone, no matter how convincing the caller may be. The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment or threaten to have you arrested if you do not comply.
- Hang up: If you suspect that the caller is not legitimate, hang up immediately. Do not engage in conversation or provide any information.
- Report the Call: Report the call to the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov/complaint.
- Protect Your Personal Information: It is important to protect your personal information at all times. Do not share sensitive information unless you are certain that the caller is legitimate.
It is important to remember that the IRS will never threaten you over the phone, demand immediate payment or ask for personal information without first sending a written notice by mail. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of a call, hang up and call the IRS directly using the number listed on their website.
VI. How to Verify Contact from the IRS
The IRS may contact taxpayers through various methods, including mail, telephone, or email. It’s important to be able to verify that any contact from the IRS is legitimate to avoid falling victim to a scam. Here are some tips for verifying contact from the IRS:
Know what to expect: The IRS will typically contact you by mail first, not by phone or email. The first contact from the IRS will be a letter, also known as a notice, sent to your address on file with the agency. The notice will provide specific details about why the IRS is contacting you and what actions you need to take.
Verify the identity of the IRS representative: If you receive a phone call or an email claiming to be from the IRS, be cautious. The IRS will never ask for personal or financial information over the phone or by email. If you’re unsure whether the person on the phone or email is a legitimate IRS representative, ask for their name, badge number, and a call-back number. You can then contact the IRS directly to verify that the person is an employee of the agency.
Use the IRS website to verify information: The IRS website offers a wealth of information about taxes and the agency’s policies and procedures. You can use the website to verify tax forms, instructions, and publications. You can also use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool to check the status of your refund.
Contact the IRS directly: If you’re unsure whether a communication from the IRS is legitimate, you can contact the agency directly to verify the information. You can call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040. You can also visit your local IRS office to speak with a representative in person.
If you suspect that you’ve been contacted by someone posing as an IRS representative, you should report the incident to the appropriate agencies. You can report fraudulent phone calls to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. You can report fraudulent emails to the IRS at email@example.com. You can also contact your local law enforcement agency to report the incident. By taking these steps, you can help protect yourself and others from IRS scams.
VII. What to do if you Receive an Email Requesting W2 Information
The W2 scam is a type of phishing scam in which cybercriminals pose as a company executive or human resources personnel and send an email requesting W2 information from an employee. The email may appear to be legitimate, but in reality, it is a phishing attempt to steal sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers and salary information.
If you receive an email requesting W2 information, the first step is to verify the sender’s identity. Contact the person who sent the email directly, either by phone or in person, to confirm that they indeed requested the information. Be sure to use contact information that you already have on file, not the contact information listed in the suspicious email.
It’s crucial to report the W2 scam to the appropriate agencies, including the IRS and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Reporting these types of incidents helps to prevent future scams and may also provide useful information in prosecuting cybercriminals.
If you believe you have fallen victim to the W2 scam, you should immediately report it to the IRS and IC3. You should also notify your employer and take steps to protect your personal and financial information, such as monitoring your credit report and putting a fraud alert on your accounts. Additionally, you should contact the Social Security Administration and the credit reporting agencies to ensure that no one has fraudulently opened new accounts in your name.
In summary, IRS phishing scams are a serious threat to individuals and organizations alike. Phishing is a type of fraud that involves the use of fake emails, websites, or phone calls to steal sensitive information. IRS phishing scams specifically target taxpayers and organizations by impersonating the IRS and requesting personal or financial information.
To protect yourself from IRS phishing scams, it is important to be aware of the signs of phishing and take necessary precautions, such as verifying contact from the IRS and not sharing personal or financial information unless you are certain of the legitimacy of the request.
If you do receive a suspicious email or phone call, it is important to report it to the appropriate agencies, including the IRS, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Federal Trade Commission, and Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Overall, it is crucial to remain vigilant and take steps to protect yourself from IRS phishing scams to avoid potential financial and personal harm. By staying informed and taking necessary precautions, you can help protect yourself and your organization from these types of fraudulent activities.