Tax Scam: How to Identify and Prevent the IRS Phishing Scam

November 13, 2010 | By: Manuel Vetti

irs phishing scamScam artists have found a new way to steal people’s confidential information by posing as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Identity theft has become a topic of much concern, especially in the last year. These scammers have become masters at the game. Learning how to spot a scam and protect your identity while still benefiting from all that technology has to offer is the key to staying safe.

A term known as “phishing” is the latest method that scammers are using to con unsuspecting victims into giving up their confidential information. The IRS is aware of this scheme and has put out warnings that will assist people in protecting themselves against these harmful scams.

What is Phishing?

The term phishing is used to describe an attempt at identify theft that occurs through the internet. These phishers are nothing more than predators that are internet savvy enough to create email messages that attempt to trick the recipient into disclosing sensitive information over the internet, usually by downloading and filling out a form.

Once the unsuspecting email recipient releases this sensitive information the phishers can then use it for purpose of identity theft. Scammers can send emails posing as law enforcement officials, financial institutions or even the IRS, attempting to lure people into disclosing personal information such as social security numbers or bank account information.

In some cases, thieves send out snail mail to start their phishing scams. They send letters that pretend to be from the IRS. They typically have phone numbers, and when the victim calls in, the scammers trick them into making payments over the phone. 

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft results when your personal confidential information is obtained without your permission for the purpose of committing theft or fraud. Identity theft can be carried out through any means. Phishing has become a common method given the extensive use of the internet to conduct business.

Identity thieves can successfully steal a person’s identity through the interception of snail mail, rummaging through trash, by fax, or even over the telephone. Being a victim of identity theft has far-reaching consequences that can impact a person’s credibility and financial stability. The best way to avoid this situation is to know how to prevent being a victim of these phishers.

What is the IRS Doing?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released several warnings in an effort to alert unsuspecting consumers to recent phishing scams. It is reported that the IRS has received just about 33,000 email scams that have been forwarded to their attention. The phishing scam goes far beyond just the United States.

In addition to increasing the availability of tips that will help consumers safeguard personal information, the IRS has educated the public by providing information about some recent phishing scams via the website.

Examples of Phishing Scams

Here are just a few of the many examples of IRS-based phishing scams that are circulating around the web.

  • The refund scam – This scam typically occurs right after tax season. An email will come from what appears to be the IRS informing a consumer that they have a tax refund awaiting them. In order to claim this refund the consumer is directed to open an email and complete a form that asks for personal and or financial information to claim their refund exposing this information to the scammers.
  • Online member surveys – Being solicited to participate in online or member surveys that request personal information is another example of an IRS-based scam. An email that contains a survey request that looks to be sent by the IRS offering payment for participation is almost always an attempt at gaining personal information.

Don’t be fooled by websites or emails that look professional. Verify the sender and the website address before responding. Always beware of downloading attachments in an email unless this comes from a verified source These emails are usually disguised as a request for information about a government program that looks to be authentic. Although the scams take various different forms they are all attempts at gathering personal information.

The IRS offers people a few tips that people should know about how the IRS conducts business.

The IRS does not send unsolicited emails out specifically addressed to taxpayers. Information that comes from the IRS via email is never personal in nature but consists of general announcements relating to information, events, or memberships. The IRS does not conduct business with taxpayers through email communications. The IRS will not request financial account information such as credit card numbers, bank PINS, or financial account information. The IRS does not request personal or tax information via email communications. All IRS web page addresses all begin with

Anyone who thinks that they have been a victim or a potential victim of identity theft should report this immediately to law enforcement officials by calling the local police. Notify the three major credit bureaus; Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Close accounts that have been compromised and notify your financial institutions. Report any phishing scams by forwarding the related email to [email protected].