Phishing, Identity Theft and Scams

Updated May 7, 2018

The Internal Revenue Service has issued several warnings regarding scamsters using the IRS name or logo to gain access to consumers’ financial data to steal their assets. Fraudsters may use the IRS name because most consumers recognize it, have had prior communication with or from the IRS and have previously provided financial data to the IRS.

As a general rule, the IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails or ask for detailed personal information. Additionally, the IRS does not ask people for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Tricking consumers into disclosing their personal and financial data, such as secret access data or credit card or bank account numbers, is identity theft. Such schemes perpetrated through the Internet are called “phishing” for information.

The information fraudulently obtained is then used to steal the taxpayer’s identity and financial assets. Typically, identity thieves use someone’s personal data to steal financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name and even file fraudulent tax returns.

Identity theft usually causes immediate financial loss and victims may encounter lingering credit and other problems as a result.

Identity theft schemes take numerous forms. Identity theft may be conducted by e-mail (phishing), standard mail, telephone or fax. Thieves may also go through trash looking for discarded tax returns, bank records, credit card receipts or other records that contain personal and financial information.

To protect against potential identity thieves, take the following steps:

  • 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 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 in questionable e-mails; instead, go directly to the site already known 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 questionable e-mails; they may contain viruses that will infect your computer.
     
  • Shred paper documents containing private financial information before discarding.

To report the fraudulent misuse of the IRS name, logo, forms or other IRS property, you may contact the TIGTA toll-free hotline at 1-800-366-4484 or visit the TIGTA website.

Taxpayers who experience tax-related identity theft should file a Form 10439, Identity Theft Affidavit. Fact Sheet 2018-6, When to file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit provides more information.

Those who think their identity has been stolen should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for information about how to handle the aftermath of identity theft.

The Internal Revenue Service announced steep declines in tax-related identity theft in 2017 following the success of the Security Summit effort. Since 2015, the number of tax-related identity theft victims has fallen by almost two-thirds and billions of dollars of taxpayer refunds have been protected.  See IR-2018-21, Key IRS Identity Theft Indicators Continue Dramatic Decline in 2017; Security Summit Continues Progress for more information.

Related Links:

  • IR-2018-111, IRS urges small businesses: Protect IT systems from identity theft
  • IR-2018-88, IRS, Summit Partners warn on tax deadline scams, ‘IRS Refunds’ email
  • IR-2018-68, Summit partners warn tax pros to be on alert; step up security measures
  • IR-2018-61, Security Summit urges tax pros to protect their identification numbers: EFINs, PTINs and CAF numbers
  • IR-2018-42, Despite Major Progress, Identity Theft Still on IRS ‘Dirty Dozen’ Tax Scams List
  • IR-2018-2, Scam Alert: IRS Urges Taxpayers to Watch Out for Erroneous Refunds; Beware of Fake Calls to Return Money to a Collection Agency
  • IR-2018-17, Tax Pros Urged to Step Up Security as Filing Scheme Emerges, Reminded to Report Data Thefts
  • IR-2018-8, IRS, States and Tax Industry Warn Employers to Beware of Form W-2 Scam; Tax Season Could Bring New Surge in Phishing Scheme
  • IR-2018-2, Security Summit Partners Warn Tax Pros of Heightened Fraud Activity as Filing Season Approaches
  • FS-2018-6, When to File a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit
  • Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts
  • Identity Theft and Your Tax Records

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