Don’t get hooked by tax-time phishing!


The IRS isn’t the only one out to get your money this time of year. Unfortunately, this is the season for tax scam schemes, including the perennial favorite, email phishing. Email phishing, for the uninitiated, is a term referring to scam emails that take on the look and feel of an e-mail from legitimate corporations, trying to trick you into clicking on a link and entering your personal information. Sophisticated phishers can look exactly like legitimate emails if you don’t know what to watch out for, and their links can lead you to ages that look remarkably like the real thing.
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Phishing schemes have been around since the birth of the internet; they’re the latest technological spin on a very old phone scam in which con artists called unsuspecting citizens asking for social security or credit card numbers. Just like the phone scam, the best way to react to a phishing email is to hang up: delete the email, don’t click on anything and move on to the rest of your day. If you’d like to be a good citizen, you can forward the phishy email to phishing@irs.gov.
How serious is email phishing this time of year? The IRS puts it at the top of their “dirty dozen” list of tax scams. That means that it’s incredibly common. You may well be the recipient of an unwanted tax scam phishing email this year. If you don’t get one and want to know what they look like, Snopes.com, the well known rumor debunking site, has examples of a variety of tax phishing emails. (alert: Snopes site has popup ads).
How can you tell that an email is phishing? First, disregard any email that claims to be from the government. The IRS will never contact you by email or through any social media like Facebook or Twitter. This has been a policy for many years and it’s unlikely to change. Therefore, if you receive any communication from the IRS in any other way besides mail, you can safely assume that it’s faked.
Not all tax phishing emails purport to come from the IRS, though. Popular tax preparers H & R Block and Intuit, the makers of the well known tax software TurboTax, are also reporting phoney emails being issued supposedly under their name. Click links for their safety tips to protect against phishing). In a slightly different twist, H & R Block customers in Tennessee were even scammed by fake text messages. Just as in an email or phone call, texts that claim to be from tax entities should be ignored and reported. Remember, no reputable company other than your mobile phone carrier is going to contact you via text message. Intuit has an up to date list of current phishing scams on their website, so if you use TurboTax and receive any emails from them, check this list before replying or clicking on attachments.
To be safe, never click on an email attachment from anyone you don’t know and make sure that any emails, even from friends, are really from them before you click. Always, always, think before you click. To use an example from my own email inbox, is it really likely that your old college friend is stranded in London without any cash and chose you to ask for a loan? If it looks suspicious, it probably is – and my friend was still in South Carolina.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you get an email from your bank, your tax preparer, or an online merchant with an urgent request about your account, don’t click the link in the email: instead, go directly to the bank or merchant website and sign in the way you normally would. If there is any urgent message, it will be listed under your account.

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