Tax season is a dangerous time. Identity thieves can file a fake tax return in your name and tie up your real return. Tax preparers can steal your identity. Any visitor in your home who stumbles across your W2s or finished tax return can get tons of personal information.
Then there are the email phishing scams. Every year, scammers send these out hoping to trick people into clicking a link, downloading an attachment or giving up their information, and they've gotten very good at it. I got one scam email in my inbox just last night that's a doozy and I have to share it with you.
Here's the email itself:
From: Internet Revenue Service <email@example.com>
Subject: Payment confirmation for tax refund request #75991792
You are receiving this notification because your tax refund request has been processed.
Please find attached a copy of the approved 1040A form you have submitted, containing your personal information.
On the last page, you can also find the wire transfer confirmation from the bank.
Transaction type : Tax Refund
Payment method : Wire transfer
Amount : $7592
Status : Processed
Form : 1040A
Additional information regarding tax refunds can be found on our websites: http://www.irs.gov/Refunds.
Please note that IRS will never ask you to disclose personal or payment information in an email.
Internal Revenue Service
Address: 111 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20224
As you can see, this looks very much like an official email. It has an irs.gov email address, the links are all the correct irs.gov links and it even includes a warning not to give out personal or payment information in an email. Very clever.
So, where does it go wrong?
The easiest way to know this email is a scam isn't actually found in the email itself. According to the IRS, "[we do] not contact individuals by email. Therefore, if you received an email claiming to be from the IRS it is a phishing attempt and should be reported to us."
If you get any email claiming to be from the IRS, forward it immediately to firstname.lastname@example.org and then delete it. It's OK if you opened it, just be sure not to click any of the links or download any attachments.
That leads me to another quick way to tell the email is a scam: the attachment. Major companies DO NOT send out emails with attachments. Even if they did, it wouldn't be a Word document, but a PDF.
The attachment might contain a virus, or instructions that could trick you into giving up personal information or money. In this case, I didn't bother opening the attachment, so I'm not sure which one this is.
Some other ways you can tell this email is fake is the details. You might not have gotten a refund, the refund amount doesn't match up, or you used a different payment method. The main ways to pay taxes or receive a refund is either direct deposit, card or paper check. Wire transfers aren't an option I've ever seen.
Phishing emails like this only work when people are so excited or scared that they don't take a moment to stop and think about what they're doing. That's why before you click an email link, download an attachment or do anything in response, you should pause for a few seconds to consider what it is you're being asked to do and why. Most of the time, just taking a little extra time lets you see through the scam.
This scam isn't the only danger you'll face regarding the IRS and scammers.
- Here are the top 12 IRS tax scams you'll encounter this year
- Protect your tax return from crooks and hackers
- Get your IRS.gov account before thieves do
- Don't fall for a fake IRS letter
- Beware of an IRS phone scam
Scams aren't just delivered through email or dealing with the IRS. Here are five dangerous Facebook scams you'll probably run into, and here are five more tricky online scams and how to avoid them.