Three tax form scams that can lead to identity theft and empty bank accounts: Internet ScamBusters #118
Since April 15th is only a month away, we decided to devote today's issue to tax form scams. The three most popular tax form scams are IRS Form W-9095, W-88BEN and W-8888.
Scammers mail out phony tax forms that you supposedly need to complete -- and they then steal your identity and/or empty your bank account.
Here are details so you know what to watch out for...
Phony Tax Form Scams
The tax form scams we're going to discuss originated in 2002 and have been going strong each year since. They are especially common at this time of year.
This scam is a sophisticated operation in which fake tax forms are mailed to you. The forms are accompanied by a letter on bank stationery to make it look as if the letter and form came from your bank.
The most common fake form is "W-9095, Application Form for Certificate Status/Ownership for Withholding Tax" -- which doesn't exist. It looks similar to the genuine IRS Form W-9, "Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification." The difference is that the real form, W-9, only requests your name, address and Social Security number.
The letter notifies you that you must return the completed form within 7 days or your bank will be required by the government to withhold 31% of the interest on your bank accounts.
Form W-9095 asks for bank account numbers, marital status, place of birth, parents' names -- and even passport information, work history, and passwords.
Form W-9095 may look legitimate -- but unfortunately, this is just about everything a scammer needs for complete identity theft -- and/or to steal the money from your bank account!
Another variant claims that the bank is updating its records regarding any interest income you have earned (legally, banks must report interest to the IRS and taxpayers must include it as income), in order to grant you a 'withholding' exemption.
There may even be a 'threat' that if you don't return the form promptly, it could cost you some money because there will be a 'fine.'
There seem to be two or three phony forms in circulation, and they all look authentic... until you inspect them more closely. For example, similar fake forms were labeled W-88BEN and W-8888.
(BTW, banks do use a legitimate Form W-88BEN in order to confirm non-U.S. customers who wish to remain exempt from tax reporting requirements. However, much less personal financial information is requested on the real W-88BEN.)
Why are these tax form scams so effective?
We believe it's because people basically trust their banks, and there are no obvious red flags that signal that the forms are phony. In addition, a benefit to the taxpayer is offered by filling out the fake form: not having 31% of your interest withheld.
Action: Always be skeptical. Take the time to call your bank if you're asked to fax (or worse, email) any personal financial information.
Further, people who receive the fraudulent letter and form should immediately contact their financial institution.
If you think you may have already been scammed, contact your bank, the various credit bureaus, and report it to the police.
Time to close. Have a great week...