Hacking, phishing and tax scams, oh my!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
In case you've been under the proverbial rock, global media mogul Rupert Murdoch's empire is continuing to crumble. While most of us weren't the targets of News Corp phone hacking, all this attention has raised everyone's general level of concern about personal privacy.
That definitely was on my mind this morning when I logged onto my online banking account. Things started normally. I signed in, checked my account, looked at some electronic payments scheduled for next week and then tried to switch to another linked account.
Suddenly I was asked to sign in again and then was thrown into a loop of "open page, re-enter sign-in ID and password" that wouldn't take me anywhere and wouldn't close.
I immediately freaked out. I've already been an identity theft victim and there's no way in hell I want to deal with that again.
So I turned to old-school technology, dialing the bank's 800 customer number. The pleasant young man who answered after a brief hold calmed me down, assuring me that suspicious website issues were an internal problem, not yet another hack into the financial services arena, and that the bank's IT people won't have Sundays off for the foreseeable future.
The possibility of financial maliciousness, however, isn't ever going away.
Targeting tax pros: And it continues even -- or maybe the better word is "especially" -- in connection with taxes.
The latest potential victims are folks participating in the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums. These annual tax geek get-togethers are a good way to keep up with tax law and IRS developments,discuss problems facing practitioners and taxpayers, meet fellow tax folk and earn continuing education credits.
I'm heading to the one in Dallas at the end of the month. I don't know who's more excited, me or the hubby who'll get a chance to play bachelor for a few days.
But upon my most recent check of the Forum website in preparation for the event, I was greeted by a prominently displayed and disconcerting alert:
Summertime tax scams: Sadly, this phishing attempt to hook tax professionals isn't the only tax scam out there this summer.
The IRS has issued a warning that "unscrupulous individuals are trying to persuade taxpayers to file false claims for tax credits or rebates." Don't you just love how polite the IRS is in its official releases?
Let's cut to the chase. Scumbag criminals are trying to get your personal financial information by using taxpayers' lust for unrealistic free money from Uncle Sam.
Two things, folks.
First, the Internal Revenue Service doesn't send out emails to taxpayers. How many times do we -- and by we, I mean the IRS, tax bloggers, traditional media, tax professionals and even your mother -- have to remind you of this fact?
So please, write it down, tape it to your computer screen or, if you must, have it tattooed somewhere you'll see it every day. Whatever it takes, do not fall for an email from a criminal purporting to be the IRS.
The second thing you must remember is another fact that all of us listed above have told you time and time again: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The IRS, although it's taken steps over the years to be more considerate of taxpayers, doesn't personally alert everyone of tax breaks. That's your responsibility and I and plenty of others do our best to help out here. But again, not usually on a one-to-one basis.
So when someone, aka a con artist, comes to you out of the blue with a great tax deal, chances are very good that that person is up to no good, at least no good for you.
Often, these people are unscrupulous promoters of schemes, charging unreasonable amounts for preparing legitimate returns or filing false claims in which they get a part of any improper refund.
Latest tax scams alert: Many recent tax scams, says the IRS, have popped up in the South and Midwest. But regardless of where you call home, you should be wary of any of the following:
- Fictitious claims for refunds or rebates based on excess or withheld Social Security benefits.
- Claims that Treasury Form 1080 can be used to transfer funds from the Social Security Administration to the IRS enabling a payout from the IRS.
- Unfamiliar for-profit tax services teaming up with local churches.
- Home-made flyers and brochures implying credits or refunds are available without proof of eligibility.
- Offers of free money with no documentation required.
- Promises of refunds for "Low Income – No Documents Tax Returns."
- Claims for the expired Economic Recovery Credit Program or Recovery Rebate Credit.
- Advice on claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit based on exaggerated reports of self-employment income.
Promoters of these scams often prey upon low-income individuals and the elderly.
The sleazebags also often target church congregations, exploiting parishioners' and religious groups' good intentions and credibility. Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS have been appearing in community churches around the country.
Like I said, scum.
So if you run across anyone pushing one of these or any other fantastic tax deal, first walk -- no run -- away.
Then call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 or visit a local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center to report your suspicions.
If you receive a false tax come-on via email, don't respond or open any attachment. But do forward the questionable email to the the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Essentially, the short message from this longer than planned post is be vigilant, skeptical and use common sense whenever it comes to your finances and your taxes.
- Don't fall for tax scams
- $1.4 million refund stolen by ID thief
- Tax scams are back
- Tax phishing is target of new IRS registration rule
- Tax refunds lost to identity thieves is a growing problem
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