The Internal Revenue Service issued a warning Thursday about a new variation on a scam involving requests by criminals who pretend to be working for the IRS asking for bank information from international taxpayers and non-resident aliens.

The crooks mail or fax a letter to unsuspecting victims asking them to fill out a copy of a Form W-8BEN, “Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting,” and saying they need to fax it back to the criminals who are impersonating IRS employees. The letter acknowledges the recipient is exempt from withholding or reporting income tax but insists they need to authenticate their information with the IRS.

The Form W-8BEN is a legitimate U.S. tax exemption document related to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, also known as FATCA. But the IRS noted it can only be submitted through a withholding agent. In the past, scammers have targeted nonresidents of the U.S. using the form as a way to elicit personal details such as passport numbers and PIN codes. The legitimate IRS Form W-8BEN doesn’t ask for any of that information. The bogus letter or fax also refers to a Form W9095, which doesn’t exist, the IRS pointed out, adding that the agency doesn’t require recertification of foreign status.

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.