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Money April 2012

Dollar Sense

While You Were Sleeping Fake IRS Agents Were Hard at Work

By Teresa Ambord

The IRS states positively that, if they want to talk to you personally, they will not do it by email. This is number one on the list of warnings they issue to prevent you from falling victim to identity theft, so take it to heart.

Identity thieves work around the clock devising new ways to siphon off our hard-earned money. That’s true all year round, but for many of them, tax season is their Christmas. That’s because they know the Internal Revenue Service is on your minds to some degree. Thieves use that fact to try to scare – or entice – us into revealing personal identifying information that they will use to steal from us. And in many cases, they do it by posing as the IRS.

We all know the IRS has power, and few of us really understand what they can do. That’s why thieves spend a great deal of time creating emails (and other communications) that look authentic, and claim to be from the IRS. Whether they promise you a big fat refund that you weren’t expecting, or warn that you owe them money, the point is to get you to provide information like your Social Security number and other details they will use to steal from you.

How Do You Know if the Message Is Real?

The IRS states positively that, if they want to talk to you personally, they will not do it by email. This is number one on the list of warnings they issue to prevent you from falling victim to identity theft, so take it to heart.

The Internal Revenue Service says: The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS does not send emails stating you are being electronically audited or that you are getting a refund.

Suppose you open your email tomorrow and have an authentic looking message from the IRS. What should you do?

The Internal Revenue Service says: If you receive a scam e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to the IRS at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Remember, tis the season for thieves to step up their efforts, pretending to be representing the IRS. And they don’t limit their thievery to the use of bogus email. They also use tweets, phone calls, and faxes. If you receive any communication purporting to be from the IRS which you suspect may be fraudulent – including snail mail— visit the IRS Web site at http://www.irs.gov/contact/index.html to determine if the communication is legitimate. Obviously if it is legitimate you need to respond right away.

What Should You Do if the Communication Is Fake?

Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. You may also fax the notice/letter you received, plus any related or supporting information, to TIGTA. Note that this is not a toll-free FAX number 1-202-927-7018.

The IRS also wants you to be aware that identity thieves siphon off information in a variety of ways. They may snatch your wallet or purse or pose as someone on the phone or by email who must have certain information (possibly to “help” you solve a problem). They are watching for security leaks on Web sites where you enter information you think is secure, like credit card numbers. And they may pick through your trash. So never let your guard down when it comes to personal identifying information.

What if You Run Across a Web Site That Claims to Be Connected to the IRS but Does Not Begin with www.irs.gov?

Keep in mind, the way thieves manage to succeed is by putting a great deal of effort into appearing real. They may imitate your bank, your credit card issuer, or any number of organizations, including the IRS. If you discover a Web site that says it is connected with the IRS but does not begin with www.irs.gov, copy the Internet address and send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .'; document.write(''); document.write(addy_text90021); document.write('<\/a>'); //-->\n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This is a true case of “better safe than sorry.”

What does it mean if the IRS sends you a letter informing you that more than one tax return has been filed in your name? Or that you failed to report income from an employer – that is, an employer you did not work for?

It may mean that someone (possibly more than one person) has obtained your Social Security number and is earning wages under your name and SSN. If you get such a notice, respond immediately to the name and address or phone number on the notice. Cooperation is key. The IRS will ask you for documentation to prove your identity, which they will use to update your file and minimize future problems.

Here are a few more important reminders from the IRS to enhance your security.

  • Don’t carry your Social Security card with you routinely, in your wallet or purse. Unless you need to show it to a new employer or a financial institution, keep it locked up in a secure place.
  • If you believe your identity is at risk because of a stolen wallet or questionable credit card activity, provide the IRS with proof of your identity. Log onto www.irs.gov and look for Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Fax the form to the IRS at 978-684-4542.
  • If you prepare your tax return online, once the filing is done remove the personal information from your hard drive. You can store the return on a CD or flash drive, or just keep a paper copy tucked away safely.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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