Scam artists are all around and using many techniques to steal logins, passwords, and personal information. An increasingly common method that scam artists have been using is spear phishing. Spear phishing is a fraudulent practice of sending emails or text messages that appear to be from a known or trusted sender. It is typically used to gain the trust of an individual and get them to reveal confidential information.
Targeted spear phishing scams can affect almost any individual as well as business. Many taxpayers have been targets of these kinds of scams. If a scammer is impersonating a trusted authority, many victims will let their guard down. Therefore, it is so important to know the signs and be able to identify a scam email or text message. As many scam artists impersonate the IRS in attempts to release confidential information from taxpayers, the agency has released guidelines on what to expect if the IRS is contacting you.
The first rule of thumb is that the IRS will generally mail a notice or letter to a taxpayer as the first attempt to contact you. To confirm if a notice is legitimate, it is usually searchable on the IRS website. If the notice cannot be found on the website, then the taxpayer should check their secured online account or contact the IRS to confirm legitimacy. The second form of contact that the IRS would resort to is a phone call. It is important to note that the IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent, or threatening messages. Many scammers will claim that there is urgent action required and they may even threaten the victim (such as a warrant for arrest) if you do not comply. The IRS will never email or send a text message to a taxpayer requesting personal or financial information. Lastly, an IRS revenue officer or agent may make an in-person visit.
Outside of these methods of contact, all other messages should be questioned. If there is any debate over whether a message is legitimate or not, the taxpayer should always verify with the IRS. A taxpayer may call the IRS and speak directly to an IRS agent.
Another tactic that scammers use in an attempt to deceive their victims is using the names of real people who work for the IRS or an actual company. The email used may even correspond to a legitimate person the victim knows but it will not be the exact same. Scammers might even pose as potential new clients or senior management at the victim’s place of employment. Spear phishing emails may include a malicious link that will send readers to a fake website. The website might request the victim to enter private credentials.
To avoid these spear phishing scams, do not respond, open any attachments, or click any links on an email that you suspect is a phishing attempt. Always check the email address of the sender. Many times, scammers will use a fake email address that is like the email of the person or organization they are impersonating, but it will not be exactly the same. If there is any suspicion always double-check.
For more information on how the IRS contacts taxpayers, visit the IRS website.
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