The ink hadn’t dried on the new economic stimulus bill before federal tax authorities began receiving complaints about vicious new tax rebate scams targeting taxpayers and their accountants.The new flurry of fraudulent activity is directed at taxpayers expecting to receive the rebates of up to $1,200 per couple that Congress voted to send out after the close of this year’s tax filing season.
But even before that legislation was signed by President Bush, the Internal Revenue Service warned taxpayers and their accountants that “a scam using the proposed rebates as bait has already cropped up.”
The service outlined several new Internet and telephone schemes that could not only leave Americans robbed of their rebates, but stripped of their identities, as well.
Among the most troubling of these was a series of phony IRS e-mails to accountants and certain businesses containing Internet links to what are supposed to be new tax law changes. In reality, however, the IRS said that the fraudulent e-mails actually contain malware programs that can give Internet criminals remote access to the accountants’ computers.
The bogus e-mails instruct accountants to download information on tax law changes by clicking on a series of links to publications on businesses, estate taxes, excise taxes, exempt organizations and IRAs and other retirement plans, the IRS said.
But instead of receiving information about IRS rebates or other tax law changes, the accountants actually download the malware — a malicious code that can take over a hard drive, giving someone remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scamster, the tax service said.
Tax officials also said that the service has encountered several current e-mail and telephone scams that use the IRS name as a lure, and said it expected that the rebate frauds to “continue through the end of tax filing season and beyond.”
The IRS specifically warned taxpayers to be on the lookout for scams that propose sending advance payment checks to those expecting rebates.
“The goal of the scams is to trick people into revealing personal and financial information, such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers, which the scammers can use to commit identity theft,” the IRS said.
One of the schemes that had surfaced involves phone calls from bogus IRS employees informing taxpayers that they’re eligible for a significant rebate for filing their taxes early. The caller then asks for the victim’s bank account information to facilitate direct deposit of the rebate.
The IRS labeled that request an outright scam, explaining that “no legislation has yet been enacted that would allow the IRS to provide advance payments to taxpayers or that determines the details of those payments.”
Furthermore, tax service officials said the IRS doesn’t require taxpayers to use direct deposit, nor does it ask for bank routing or other account information by telephone.
Other current tax scams identified by the IRS include:
* Variations of a refund-related bogus IRS e-mail that tells the recipient that he or she is eligible for a tax refund for a specific amount, and instructs the taxpayer to click on a link in the e-mail to access a refund claim form that asks for personal financial information.
* A similar e-mail-based scheme soliciting financial information from charities and other non-profits bearing the name and supposed signature of the Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations business division.
* A fraudulent IRS e-mail informing the taxpayer that his or her return has been selected for audit and instructing the recipient to complete forms with personal financial and bank account information.
* A telephone scam where a bogus IRS employee seeks bank account information from taxpayers who are told that the agency has sent them checks that were never cashed.
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