Once again, the Internal Revenue Service is warning the taxpaying public about a dangerous deception by cyber scammers. This one is particularly sophisticated, but it also is simple to foil.
The Web criminals have been sending fake tax forms about life insurance using the names of tax preparers. The objective? To reach into the clients’ life insurance policies or annuities and steal money. With enough information, a nefarious somebody could take out loans or even clean out the value of an annuity.
The IRS alert has a few tip-offs to watch for:
• The subject line of the scam emails tends to emphasize “urgent information.”
• This text has been used: “Kindly fill the form attached for your Life insurance or Annuity contract details and fax back to us for processing in order to avoid multiple tax bill.”
• Poor grammar in the message also is a warning sign.
• Of course, a slightly altered email address is a big flag in these types of phishing attacks. Check before clicking!
The defense is simple. Don’t click; just delete. Sending back the fake tax form online gives the crooks information they can use to steal from a life insurance or annuity account.
The IRS didn’t say if the scam is widespread yet. But it’s a masquerade that involves two deceptions. First, the crooks fool a tax preparer and grab email addresses from his/her computer. (The thieves have been doing that by posing as a “cloud” storage site, the IRS says.) Then, they use the tax preparer’s name to send clients the bogus tax form.
Eric didn’t fall for this one. Here are his working precautions:
• Never click on an emailed link from a client, because it may not be real.
• Do not open .pdf attachments from clients unless a personal message comes with the email and documents have been discussed verbally in advance.
• Always use the EricJohn Ltd. portal for sending and receiving documents. (Clients have password-protected access.)
At the same time, Eric says it’s worthwhile to remind all his clients to be “super-careful with emails, even from me.”
A general caution. You should not be hearing from the IRS online or by phone without receiving written notice ahead of time. In the agency’s words: “The IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.”
Find more information at the IRS “Report Phishing and Online Scam page,” which is: https://www.irs.gov/privacy-disclosure/report-phishing
Still have a question about whether a tax-related contact is legit? Contact Eric, owner of EricJohn Ltd. tax service, at his email, firstname.lastname@example.org (P.S. Don’t send attachments at first contact. Eric plays it safe!)