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Identity scams proliferate as tax deadline approaches

SATURDAY, FEB. 25, 2006

WASHINGTON – Marketing pitches masquerading as the 1099 forms detailing non-payroll income have been arriving in taxpayer mailboxes, while e-mails that appear to be from the Internal Revenue Service are really identity theft scams designed to collect personal financial information.

Government officials say they are currently seeing about one widespread IRS-themed e-mail scam a week, but Internet security experts expect them to escalate as the April 15 tax deadline nears.

“Usually these things peak around the time taxes are due,” said Dan Hubbard, senior director of security and research for the Internet Web security firm Websense. “Basically it’s another timely current event that’s on top of people’s lists and another lure to deceive people into giving away credentials in some way.”

And scammers are capitalizing on the fact that more than half of all tax returns are expected to be filed electronically this year. Consider this recent e-mail claiming to be from the IRS: “You filed your tax return and you’re expecting a refund. You have just one question and you want the answer now. Where’s My Refund? Access this secure Web site to find out …”

The Web site looked like the real IRS site. But it wasn’t.

Nor was the Web site link in another recent e-mail using what appeared to be IRS letterhead, posing as notification to the recipient of a $63.80 refund.

Both Web sites asked for Social Security numbers and credit and bank account information, part of an online identity theft scheme known as “phishing.”

The IRS warns consumers to disregard any e-mail that purportedly comes from the agency. “The IRS does not communicate with taxpayers electronically,” said Richard Morgante, the IRS commissioner of wage and investment. “If you get a communication from the IRS, it is via a letter in the mail or a phone call.” If in doubt, consumers should call the agency’s toll-free number, (800) 829-1040, to determine the legitimacy of any notice, Morgante added.

Government officials said they first started noticing the phony IRS e-mails last year around tax time. They disappeared, only to resurface in November 2005. Since that time, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received about 1,100 complaints from consumers.


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