Don't get taken by the IRS audit scam: Internet ScamBusters #215
Today's issue focuses on another IRS email hoax -- the IRS audit scam. You'll find out how to recognize and protect yourself from the IRS audit scam so you don't get hooked and become a victim of identity theft. Plus, we share a very useful resource you can order for free: the 2007 Consumer Action Handbook.
How to Recognize and Avoid the IRS Audit Scam
IRS and other tax-related scams are going to increase as next April 16 draws near. Just like the weather, scams change with the seasons; a common tax-related scam is the fake IRS audit email.
The scammer's goal is to obtain your personal and financial information by pretending the IRS is contacting you about an impending audit.
How the IRS audit scam works
You receive an official-looking email, supposedly from the IRS. The email states that the IRS is auditing you and that you must complete and return the attached questionnaire. If you do not respond within 48 hours, the message says, you will face penalties and interest.
As you can probably guess, the questionnaire asks for personal and financial information, such as your Social Security number and bank account numbers.
Another variation on this IRS audit scam is a link in the body of the email that will direct you to a fake IRS website. There you will be asked to input confidential information.
This email is a type of phishing scam. We described how to protect yourself from phishing scams here.
The fake IRS audit email is such a serious issue that the IRS has posted a warning on its official website.
Why the IRS audit scam works
"Audit" is a scary word. Basically, this scam preys on the public's fear of the IRS.
Most people are nervous about complying with the laws and regulations when they file their taxes. Getting contacted by the IRS is nothing to take lightly.
Scammers know this. Afraid of getting into some kind of trouble, a lot of people will respond immediately, without really thinking about it first. Plus, the scammers do a good job of making the email look official. Most of them include the IRS logo and the email supposedly comes from an "@irs.gov" address.
If you receive the questionnaire version, the attachment will look exactly like an actual tax form. It may contain a computer virus or Trojan.
If you receive an email containing a link, clicking on it will take you to a fake IRS website. However, the site looks anything but fake. The layout uses graphics and images taken directly off the real site.
Yet, it's 100% fake.
Do not be afraid to completely disregard this email. The IRS NEVER uses email to inform taxpayers of an audit.
If the IRS needs to contact you about an audit, they will do so by mail.
How to recognize the IRS audit scam
The subject line may say something like "IRS E-Audit." Often the sender's email address is "firstname.lastname@example.org." The IRS address might make the email look more authentic, but it's actually the biggest tip-off that it's fake.
As we said, the IRS does not contact taxpayers via email. In fact, in response to this audit scam, the IRS has posted this statement on their website: "The IRS does not send out unsolicited emails asking for personal information."
Protect yourself from the scam
The best way to protect yourself against the IRS audit scam is to simply delete the email without opening it. If you accidentally open one, you probably don't have to worry. Close and delete it as soon as you realize what it is.
Typically there will be no harm done as long as you didn't open any attachment. As with any suspicious email, you should never click on a link or open any attachment.
Help put a stop to the audit scam
If you receive one of these fake IRS emails, the IRS asks that you report it to them by forwarding the message to this address: email@example.com.
The good news is that getting hooked by the IRS audit email scam is easily avoidable. Simply remember that the IRS will never ask you for personal information via email.
Free 2007 Consumer Action Handbook
You can now pre-order a copy of the 2007 Consumer Action Handbook -- free. If you want to know how to deal with consumer issues, this 168-page guide is filled with tips -- for example how to prevent identity theft, what to do if a product you ordered online never arrived, and how to resolve consumer problems (including sample complaint letters you can use or modify).
You can expect your guide to arrive by March 1, 2007. To order your copy, call 888-878-3256 or visit the Consumer Action Website.
Time to close -- See you next week.