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Avoid Identity Scams Posing as the IRS

Posted on March 5, 2012 at 4:30 AM

Identity Theft Attempts through ‘IRS’ E-mail ‘Notices’


It appears that at least two Americans overseas in Norway, prospective tax clients and concerned citizens, have been contacted recently by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by e-mail. That’s very interesting, seeing as the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.


They contacted me, telling me that they had received notice letters from the IRS, letters that told them they must file tax forms to the U.S. Well, so far, so good: if they meet the minimum income threshold for filing generally, they would have to file IRS tax forms, sending them to the IRS. I ask them if they have not filed lately, and they both replied that was the case. I give them all the information about filing their tax forms, and my services, and ask if they would like to use me to do that. They both replied yes. I then asked them to send me the notice letters they received in the mail – so I can reference those in doing their forms. That is when the word, e-mail (also known as email) shows up in the discussion. And, just to be sure that anyone reading this does not miss the message, it is stated several times.  “The IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.”


If that is the case, then where is this e-mail coming from? And what do they expect to get out of it? Question one first. This particular e-mail string came from an e-mail registered to vsnl.com. For privacy purposes, I will call it: _____@vsnl.com. When one looks up to see who that could be, one discovers that one of the things that vsnl.com does is register e-mail addresses to persons who purchase those from them. A dead-end, as far as I’m concerned. Let the security police continue from there. It didn’t hurt that the text they placed in the ‘from’ box on the e-mail (note also: this was not the e-address) was: “IRS Tax Notification Department.” Sounds impressive. Just that it wasn’t the IRS – or the ‘IRS Tax Notification Department.’


Question two: What do they expect to get out of it? I imagine they would like confessional replies stating your social security number, your income, and while you’re at it, your bank account numbers, and PIN codes. Say you owe tax? Throw in your credit card numbers, etcetera? STOP before you even begin. Why? Because the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers! Do not reply, and above all, do not open attachments, rather hard for flustered folk to resist.


Rather clever that they think they’ve found some Americans overseas they can utilize for identity theft purposes. Hopefully, we do not hear any sob stories about emptied accounts and identity theft.


Still, it made me a bit sentimental. I recall the first (and only) e-mail I received from the IRS. I may be a taxpayer, but I am also a tax preparer, and an Acceptance Agent, assisting foreigners in filing Form W-7. It was rather recently. I had been doing tax work for Americans in Norway for 12 years and had a question about my Acceptance Agent work. The somewhat-secret phone number I was given to call had a voicemail with an e-address suggested on it, so I sent my question along by e-mail to the IRS. Voila: several hours later, a reply was in my e-mail inbox. Was that special? Yes. Am I special? No. It is still true, you see, that “the IRS does not send e-mail to taxpayers.” One could always say that “the IRS never initiates e-mail contact with taxpayers.”


Therefore, whether you are an American taxpayer or a non-American taxpayer, IF YOU GET an e-mail that appears to be from the IRS, the IRS requests that you forward it to an e-mail address they provide for this purpose. Send it to: phishing@irs.gov. Guess what: they will not reply!


Additional information is available at: http://www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=179820,00.html and at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4523esp.pdf .


Then, go fishing if you can. Before you update your tax filings. It will ease your mind to know that you are making your own small but important contribution to responding to the burden of growing global financial accountability. Besides, fish for dinner is good for you.

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