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Tax texting scams are increasing, warns IRS

Texters gonna text text text

We depend on our smartphones more than ever. They've made texting, especially among younger device owners, the preferred way to communicate.

Crooks know this, too. Including tax identity thieves.

The Internal Revenue Service says it's seen a recent rash of tax-related texting scams. These latest schemes, known as smishing because they use SMS (short message service) or MMS (multimedia messaging service), look like they are coming from the IRS.

Don't fall for these fake IRS texts, which the tax agency says have increased exponentially this year.

Exponential fake tax texts: So far in 2022, the IRS has identified and reported thousands of fraudulent domains to which the tax smishing is tied.

The texting crooks offer lures like help obtaining COVID relief, tax credits, or setting up an online taxpayer account. What the texters really want is your personal, tax, and financial information so they can steal your identity and money.

"In recent months, the IRS has reported multiple large-scale smishing campaigns that have delivered thousands – and even hundreds of thousands – of IRS-themed messages in hours or a few days, far exceeding previous levels of activity," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

"This is phishing on an industrial scale so thousands of people can be at risk of receiving these scam messages," added the commissioner.

Usual fake links: As with most tax scams, the texting crooks ask taxpayers to click a link. Once at that phishing website, the crooks will try to collect victims' information.

Other times, clicking on the fake IRS link instead will send malicious code onto the targeted individuals' phones.

Remember, the IRS does not send emails or text messages asking for personal or financial information or account numbers. Any purported IRS representative that reaches out this way is fake, and the messages are giant, waving red scam flags.

Continuing COVID cons: These scams are just another way that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted, or worse, our lives.

This latest round of fake tax texts is the continuation of COVID-related schemes that cropped up in the fall of 2020. They're still here, even as the pandemic has eased a bit and tax-related relief has slowed.

But crooks keep going. And their criminal tactics evolve. They often use algorithms to automatically generate hundreds or even thousands of fraudulent domains that are used in their smishing and phishing attempts.

The IRS cites a recent campaign that used three dozen stolen or bogus email addresses to create more than 1,000 fraudulent domains.

Reporting IRS-related smishing: Reporting these scams is critical to ending them and catching the crooks.

"Particularly in these cases, the best offense is a good defense," said Rettig. "Taxpayers and tax pros need to remain constantly vigilant with suspicious IRS-related emails and text messages. And if you get one, sending the IRS important details from the text can help us disrupt the scams and protect others."

If you get a fake tax text, report it the IRS. The tax agency then alerts the appropriate service providers of the criminal activity so they can take action to protect other customers who might receive a variant of the same scam.

When reporting a smishing tax scam, include both the body of the message and the sender's information in one email or text. The IRS suggests the following reporting process to capture important details that can be used to stop and/or capture smishing crooks:

  • Create a new email to [email protected].
  • Copy the caller ID number (or email address).
  • Paste the number (or email address) into the email.
  • Press and hold the SMS/text message and select Copy. Copying is preferred, but, if necessary, the IRS says it will accept screenshots.
  • Paste the copied message into the email.
  • If possible, include the exact date, time, time zone and telephone number that received the message.
  • Send the email to [email protected].

Scam SMS/text messages can also be copied and forwarded to wireless providers via text to 7726 (SPAM). This helps service providers spot and block similar messages in the future.

Telling other agencies, too: Also report the message to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) using its IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting form, as well as to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through their Complaint Assistant.

All incidents, successful and attempted, should also be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

And if the texting scammer was so convincing you fell for it and provided the crook personal tax information, or otherwise find yourself falling victim to a tax-related scam, got to the IRS' online Identity Theft Central for additional resources.

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