My 4/10/11 Missoulian column
It’s that time of year again: tax time. And it’s also that time of year for online tax scams. That’s because online criminals know it’s a busy time for filing and waiting for refund checks or direct deposits. And even people who are normally careful online can be scammed.
One of the most prevalent IRS-style scams takes the form of “phishing” emails. And the unfortunate reason why they are popular with scammers is because they work.
These emails will arrive in your inbox, addressing you by name – that’s the “phishing” part – and advise you that your tax refund is larger than anticipated or your tax bill is larger than expected, and you need to apply for your refund or pay the extra taxes online.
I received a few last year, and they looked professionally done, with the IRS logo, color scheme and official sounding text. But the grammar wasn’t perfect, and the links that the email advised to use were bogus and didn’t point to irs.gov.
But the most important detail to remember about the whole IRS email scam is that the IRS will never email you about your refund or say you have a larger tax bill.
If you get an unsolicited email from the IRS – meaning you haven’t been already communicating with the IRS or made a request to the IRS for forms or information – simply delete it.
The emails may look very official. But it’s easy to take the logo of the IRS and copy the form and design of the IRS’ website and integrate that into an email that looks official.
Again: The IRS will never email you about your refund or to tell you about a larger tax bill.
The way these scam emails work is once they have convinced you about your refund or tax bill, they ask for your bank account information to deposit your refund or your credit card info in order for you to pay your extra taxes online.
That’s the hook in the phishing scam, and you stand to loose much more than that refund or tax bill. So just delete those emails without even opening them.
And if you’re running behind this week, this is straight from the IRS’ website: “Taxpayers have an extra weekend to file this year because of a District of Columbia holiday. The deadline for 2011 is Monday, April 18, instead of April 15.”
This week in Mac Q & A: What’s the Best Mac Tax Software?