I always thought it was an unwritten rule: The IRS never uses email to initiate a taxpayer communication. Never. And it doesn’t use email to request detailed personal information.
Nevertheless, just one week ago, I received an email from the IRS with an IRS logo, an IRS Notification subject line and an email address of email@example.com.
Apparently, there was a calculation error on my tax return and I’m eligible for a $63.80 tax refund.
What? Was I wrong about the email rule?
No, I wasn’t wrong.
According to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, “The IRS does not send out unsolicited emails asking for personal information. Don’t be taken in by these criminals.”
All appearances to the contrary, my email wasn’t from the IRS at all. I was the target of a scam (referred to as phishing) intended to gather my personal information for the purpose of identity theft.
According to the Federal Trade Commission website, “phishers send an email or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you may deal with… The message may ask you to update, validate, or confirm your account information… and directs you to a website that looks just like a legitimate organization’s site. But it isn’t. It’s a bogus site whose sole purpose is to trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity.”
Recently, phishers have been posing as the IRS. In fact, the IRS has posted a sample email on its website.
You can protect yourself by remembering the basic rule: the IRS doesn’t use email to initiate communications with taxpayers. You should also know that all legitimate IRS web page addresses begin with http://www.irs.gov.
How to Report a Suspicious Email to the IRS
If you’ve been sent an unsolicited email message that is purportedly from the IRS, you should report it. The IRS can use the information you provide to “trace the hosting Web site and alert authorities to help shut down the fraudulent sites.”
To make your report, forward the possibly fraudulent email to the IRS’ new electronic mailbox at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find more detailed instructions in the article entitled “Phishing and Other Schemes Using the IRS Name,” posted on the web. The IRS has also posted instructions on what to do if you receive a suspicious IRS-related communication.
You can report “misuse of the IRS name, logo, forms or other IRS property” by calling the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’ hotline at 1.800.366.4484.
How to Report Other Suspicious Email
You can report suspicious emails (including but not limited to those involving the IRS) to the Federal Trade Commission. Forward the suspicious email to them at email@example.com, contact them at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or call them at 1.877.IDTHEFT (438.4338).
For More Information
If you want to read more about identity theft, refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s website or visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov, then select Identity Theft or Phishing from the Topics menu.