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Fake IRS form + mail fraud = latest tax identity theft scam

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They're baaaack! Actually, they never left.

They, of course, are tax scammers, who the Internal Revenue Service says have tweaked an old scheme using a form used by international taxpayers and non-resident aliens in their latest effort to steal taxpayer identities and cash.

As is the case in many tax scams, the form used in this latest identity theft iteration, the W-8BEN, is real.

That's an excerpt of the real IRS document, which is titled Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, below. You can click on it to see the full form at IRS.gov.

W-8BEN form excerpt

When used by the IRS, the W-8BEN is a legitimate U.S. tax exemption document.

But in the hands of scammers, it's being used to con taxpayers into revealing detailed personal and bank account information.

Don't fall for fake forms: The crooks are seeking such things as the target's passport number, PINs and passcodes and mother's maiden name. A legitimate W-8BEN does not ask for any of that information.

Plus, notes the IRS, Form W-8BEN can only be submitted through a withholding agent, not by taxpayers. Neither does the tax agency require a recertification of foreign status.

And the final tip-off that it's a scam is that the identity thieves also refer to another IRS form, the W9095. That document doesn't exist.

Latest W-8BEN scam twist: Here's how the latest iteration of the W-8BEN scam works.

Criminals mail or fax a letter to individuals telling them that although they are exempt from withholding and reporting income tax, they need to authenticate their information by filling out the enclosed, phony version of Form W-8BEN.

After entering the personal and financial data on the fake form, the scam targets are told to fax the information to the number in the letter.

Suspicious NH target: Olof Ekbergh of Bartlett, New Hampshire, recently got a W-8BEN tax scam letter.

The fake tax form was accompanied by a letter purportedly from the Bank of America, according to Daymond Steer's story in the Conway (N.H.) Daily Sun.

The fake letter had an authentic-looking Bank of America logo at the top and a Delaware post office box number as the return address. But, according to the story, the letter contained account numbers that didn't match any real account and the phone number wasn't associated with any Bank of America branch.

Kudos to Ekbergh for thoroughly checking out the letter. Many others might simply have been intimidated by the scam letter's strong wording, which included threats to close accounts and forcibly open a safe-deposit box if the requested info was not delivered by June 4.

Involving the Postal Service: The crooks even sent, in addition to the fake W-8BEN, a W-2 form and a return envelope with an Arizona P.O. box address.

If Ekbergh had fallen for the scam and mailed back all that the crooks requested, they would have had his original signature they could possibly have used to more easily forge other identity theft documents.

In addition to taking his tax scam story to the local newspaper, Ekbergh also alerted his local U.S. Post Office, since the criminal attempt was delivered that way.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigates mail fraud and identity theft when the attempts involve U.S. mail.

Call toll-free (877) 876-2455 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in all time zones and select the appropriate prompt number to report your mail incident to the Postal Inspection Service. You also can report the mailed identity theft attempt online.

Be skeptical, be safe: The U.S. Postal Service also offers the same prevention advice as the IRS when it comes to unexpected contacts seeking personal data.

If such an offer, promotion or solicitation arrives in the mail report it to tax and mail authorities.

And definitely don't respond.

As for fraudulent mail, the Postal Service says be leery of communications that say your response is urgent, that demand or request cash payments or ask you to sign a blank form.

On the tax side, the IRS reminds taxpayers (yet again) that it does not:

  • Demand that people use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
  • Demand immediate tax payment.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to arrest people for not paying.

The IRS also encourages us all to stay alert when we receive any letters, emails or calls that purport to be from the agency. Crooks continue to refine and, as in the W-8BEN case, recycle tax identity theft schemes.

If something seems amiss, trust your gut and call the IRS and/or your tax professional for clarification about your tax situation before doing anything requested or demanded in scam attempts.

And stay alert. Year round. They will be baaaack!

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