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Two Common Government Employee Impersonation Scams: What to Watch For

One of the biggest threats that taxpayers are facing these days is an aggressive scam where criminals call victims and pretend to be IRS agents. The goal? To steal money.

All year but especially during tax filing season, the IRS will see a big surge in the number of scam calls, which tell victims that they will be arrested, deported, or have their driver’s license revoked if they don’t pay a fake tax bill.

How the Scams Work

These scammers make calls to people and claim to be from the IRS. They inform the victim that they have an unpaid tax bill, that must be paid immediately, either through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. To make this sound even more legitimate, the scammers might also send a phishing email or make robo-calls to the victims.

To get the victims to pay, and to pay quickly, they make threats, as mentioned above. On top of this, they also can alter the number they are calling from through caller ID spoofing services to make it look like the IRS is actually calling. The scammers also will use badge number and IRS titles to make themselves sound more official.

The IRS is onto these scams, of course, and it has released information to remind taxpayers to be aware of them. For instance, a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, TIGTA, states that there are more than 12,000 people who have paid more than $63 million due to these phone scams over the past few years.

Recognizing an IRS Scam

There are certain things that the IRS will never do, so if you see any of these things, or you are asked to them, you can be sure that it’s a scam.

The IRS will NEVER:

  • Threaten to bring in local police for not paying your tax bill
  • Ask you to pay via a gift card or wire transfer
  • Demand that taxes are paid without question or the opportunity to appeal
  • Ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone
  • Call about an unexpected refund
  • Call to collect money without first sending a tax bill

If you get a call from the “IRS” asking for any of this, hang up.

There are Social Security Administration Scams Out There, Too

The IRS is not the only government agency plagued by scams. People are also getting scammed by people claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, or SSA. The goal here is to try to get your Social Security number.

Basically, someone will call you and claim to be from the SSA in an attempt to collect your personal information, including your Social Security number. If you get a call like this, you should definitely not engage with the caller, nor should you give them any money or personal information.

One of the ways that scammers are so good at getting this information is that they try to trick their victims by saying their Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity, or that it has been connected to a crime. They will ask the victim to confirm their SSN in order to reactivate it.

Sometimes, they might even go further with this and tell the victim that their bank account is about to be seized, but they can keep the money safe…by putting it on a gift card, and then sending the code to the scammer.

You might wonder why people fall for this, but it really is easy for these scammers to change their phone number to show the same number as the SSA on caller ID. But this is a fake number…it’s not really the Social Security Administration.

There is also the fact that the scammers will say that someone has used your personal Social Security number to apply for a credit card, and because of this, you could lose your Social Security benefits. They also might say that your bank account is close to being seized, and you must withdraw your money or wire it to a “safe account,” which is, of course, the account of the scammer.

Here’s some of the details about these scams that you need to know:

  • Your Social Security number won’t be suspended. You never have to verify your number to the SSA, either and the agency can’t just seize your bank account.
  • The SSA will never call you about taking your benefits or tell you that you must wire money to them. If you are asked for money from the SSA, it is a scam.
  • The SSA’s number is 1-800-772-1213, but scammers are using this to appear on caller ID. So, it looks legitimate. So, if you get a call from this number, hang up and call it back. This way, you can be sure you are talking about the SSA and get the information you need…or find out that someone was trying to scam you.

Do not give your Social Security number to anyone over the phone or via email…also, don’t give your credit card number or bank account number to anyone over the phone or via email.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Beware of these 4Scams

IRS

  • The e-mail (or phone call) says you owe money; if you don’t pay it immediately, you’ll be put in jail or fined.The scammer may know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number.
  • Caller ID will be spoofed to look like the call is from the IRS.9D
  • The e-mail will include an IRS logo and other nuances to make it look official.
  • The scammer may also have an accomplice call the victim pretending to be a police officer.
  • The victim is scared into sending the “owed” money—which goes to the thief. Or, the thief gets the victim to reveal credit card information.
  • Another version is that the IRS owes the victim. The victim is tricked into revealing bank account information to receive the refund.
  • Know that the IRS will never contact you via e-mail or phone; will never threaten jail time, a fine or other threats like a driver’s license revocation.
  • If you owe, the IRS will send you snail mail, certified.
  • The IRS will never threaten to have you arrested.
  • If the subject line of an e-mail appears to be from the IRS, delete it.
  • If a phone call appears to be from the IRS, hang up.

Bereavement

  • Scammers scan obituaries for prey.
  • They then contact someone related to the deceased and claim something against the estate or that they’ll reveal a family secret scandal unless they’re paid.
  • If one of these scams comes your way, request written documentation of the claim.
  • Tell the sender you’ll send this documentation to the executor.
  • If you’re blackmailed, contact a lawyer.
  • Never arrange to meet the sender.

Computer Hijack

  • This may come as a phone call: A person claiming to be a Microsoft rep informs you that your computer has been hacked and he’ll fix it—or you’ll lose everything.
  • He wants to convince you to let him have remote control or “sharing” of your computer…and from there he’ll try to get your credit card number…

Investment Scam

  • Someone halfway around the world has chosen YOU to handle a large amount of money, and you’ll be paid richly for this.
  • The sender often has a foreign sounding name, but even common names are used.
  • Often, there’s some smaltzy message in the e-mail subject line like “God bless you” or “Need your help.”
  • Delete e-mails with any subject lines relating to investments, inheritances, mentions of money, princes, barristers or other nonsense.
  • If you feel compelled to open one, don’t be surprised if there are typos or that it’s poorly written. Do NOT click any links!

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

How to prevent IRS scams

Once a thief knows your Social Security number…you’re at very high risk for having your identity stolen.

Computer crime concept

Computer crime concept

A report on bankrate.com says that the IRS is warning of a cyber attack on its electronic filing PIN application. Thieves infiltrated it with malware in an attempt to claim other people’s refunds as their own. Over 450,000 SSNs were involved, and over 100,000 of them enabled the hackers to access an E-file PIN.

Endless scams are directed towards SSNs, like the classic phishing attack. A phishing attack basically goes as follows:

  • An e-mail arrives with an alluring or threatening subject line, which may actually be a warning to protect your SSN.
  • The e-mail looks legitimate, complete with logos and privacy information at the bottom.
  • The hacker’s goal is to get you to fill out a form that includes typing in your SSN.
  • The FTC warns of a “Get Protected” subject line for the latest scam. This scam e-mail mentions the “S.A.F.E. Act 2015” that protects against fraudulent use of SSNs.
  • Like many phishing e-mails, the “Get Protected” one contains fake information.
  • These e-mails include a link that, when clicked, will release a virus, or take you to a website that will download a virus or lure you into revealing sensitive information.

Three Ways to Get Scammed

Most people make important decisions based on emotion. Cyber thieves know this, and they prey on fear, greed and generosity.

  • People aren’t thinking straight when emotions are ruling. Logic gets swept under the rug. There’s pressure to act quickly, such as helping the scammer (who pretends to be a grandchild of the victim) who was in an accident: wire money asap. Natural disaster scams prey on the desire to give. The emotion of greed is manipulated in “You’ve Won!” and inheritance scams.
  • Of course, before the fraudster plays with emotions like a cat playing with a mouse, he first gains your trust, pretending to like the same things you do, whatever it takes so that you don’t question him.
  • Scammers are adept at appearing credible, such as tricking your caller ID into showing “IRS” or the name of your bank in the ID field. They may have a snazzy website up, a “badge number,” noise in the background to simulate a call center, even a fake accent.
  • Remember, scammers are pros. It’s going to seem legitimate.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

Tell your Grams about these Scams

Do we really get wiser with old age, or just more vulnerable to all the scammers out there? Here are the top scams directed towards senior citizens.
9D
IRS
The phone rings; it’s from the IRS, claiming you owe money.

  • Caller ID says IRS (spoof technology).
  • Caller says if you don’t pay within 24 hours, you’re going to jail.
  • Caller wants your bank account information and routing number, or wants you to wire what you owe.
  • Or, caller says IRS owes you, but to get the refund, you must pay a processing fee within 24 hours.
  • The IRS never calls people for back taxes; it sends a certified letter.
  • Refunds are sent via snail mail without the IRS ever notifying you.

Reverse Mortgages

  • There’s no monthly payment, but whatever balance and interest has accumulated by the time the borrower sells, it must be paid back. If the borrower dies before this, family members must pay it.
  • Misleading ads make it seem this loan is affiliated with the government.
  • You CAN lose your home.
  • If you run out of equity before you sell or die, you’ll need to repay the loan. If you can’t, it’s foreclosure time.

Sob Story

  • The caller identifies self as a grandchild, great niece, etc.
  • Or, the caller says he’s your grandchild’s doctor, lawyer, etc.
  • The caller is in trouble and wants you to wire them money ASAP.
  • They may know details of the person they’re impersonating and you as well, because they’ve visited that person’s Facebook page—and yours.
  • If you ask if you can call back, the caller won’t accept this.
  • Asking additional questions about the “accident” or “burglary” won’t get you answers.

Obituaries and Funeral Homes

  • The caller says that the deceased owes a debt.
  • Or, the caller says he provides funeral services.
  • The victim is a spouse usually.
  • A funeral home that you’re already working with may also try to scam you by talking you into the most expensive casket, memorial plaques, etc.

Phony Pharma

  • Caller or e-mail sender claims to be from the government or authorized by such, to fill your drug prescription at a cheap price.
  • You must act now because the great deal is for a limited time.
  • If you DO receive something, it’s probably vitamins in a prescription bottle.
  • The crook may know details about you from reading your Facebook page.
  • A similar scam exists for Medicare.

Solutions

  • Use a mobile phone as much as possible; scammers usually call landline numbers.
  • Never answer the phone if the number is unfamiliar or says IRS.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.

Reports say Russians hacked IRS Identities

CNN recently reported that the data breach of the IRS, which occurred between this past February and May, originated from Russia. The crooks were able to steal tax returns from over 100,000 people. The thieves filed a total of $50 million in tax refunds, having obtained personal data to get ahold of the data.

11DIn other words, this crime wasn’t a hacking job. The Russians didn’t hack into the IRS’s network through some “back door” or social engineering scheme. They actually entered through the front door, using the personal data they had obtained.

Just how the breach came about is not yet known. The IRS’s Criminal Investigation Unit, plus the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, are trying to figure it all out. The FBI is also involved.

Americans have no reason to feel secure about the protection of their tax data. For years, there have been security concerns by the leaders, and this latest Russian incident has fueled the flames.

Orrin Hatch, the Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman, has stated: “When the federal government fails to protect private and confidential taxpayer information, Congress must act.” This is not the first time that the Russians have caused a data breach for the U.S. government.

As for this latest incident, the Russian thieves had originally tried to get into the tax records of 200,000 people, but were only 50 percent successful—resulting in the breach of those 100,000 Americans.

However, the IRS intends on contacting every one of those 200,000 people about the attempt. This is because third parties may have these people’s Social Security numbers, among other personal data.

And what is the consolation for the 100,000 people whose tax records were obtained? The IRS said they will get free credit monitoring.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

How to identify Tax Scams

The IRS isn’t your biggest enemy during tax season. It’s the criminals who pretend to be IRS reps and then con people out of their money. They contact potential victims chiefly through phone calls and text messages.

9DTypically, the message is threatening in tone and/or content, informing the target they’ll be arrested if they don’t immediately send the IRS owed money. The threat may also be deportation or a driver’s license suspension (that last one is really silly, but people actually do fall for these cons).

The money must be wire transferred or sent via a pre-paid card—and this is one of the tip-offs it’s a scam: Why wouldn’t the IRS accept a personal check like they normally do? The wire transfer or pre-paid card guarantees the crook will never be tracked.

Identifying tax scams is easy! It’s a scam if the scammy “IRS”:

  • Requests a credit card number over the phone or email
  • Requests a wire transfer or pre-paid card over the phone or email
  • The initial communication about owed money is NOT through snail mail.

The aforementioned three points should be enough for you to identify a scam, but to make identification even easier, here’s more:

  • There’s background noise to make you think it’s a busy call center.
  • The caller gives you his “badge number” to sound more official.
  • The caller identifies himself with a common name (i.e., Michael Harris).
  • The phone call coincides with an e-mail (to make things appear more official).
  • The caller hangs up when you say, “I actually work for the IRS myself.”

Scammers’ tricks that can fool you:

  • The caller ID appears it’s the IRS calling. Caller ID can be easily “spoofed”.
  • You get another call from supposedly the DMV or police department, and the caller ID shows this. (Now think about this for a moment: With all the really bad guys out there making trouble, don’t you think the police have better things to do than call people up about back taxes?)
  • The caller may know the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Don’t argue with the caller. Simply hang up (or if you want to have fun, tell them you yourself are with the IRS and listen to how fast they hang up). If you really do owe taxes, call the real IRS and work with an authentic employee to pay what you owe.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention. Disclosures.

Tax Related Identity Theft Scams Up 300%

Cases of stolen tax returns have surged over the past five years, leaving many identity theft victims struggling to recoup their lost refunds.

Approximately 155 million tax forms are filed annually. This provides identity thieves with an opportunity to come out of the woodwork and steal from Americans who are just trying to pay their taxes correctly.

A recent Scripps Howard News Service investigation analyzed more than 1.4 million ID theft records from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission from 2005 through early 2010.  In it they found that fraud complaints about stolen tax return-related identity theft jumped from 11,010 complaints in 2005 to 33,774 in 2009.  That’s nearly 300 percent.

Thieves may steal victims’ refunds, trick them into disclosing Social Security or credit card numbers, or even pose as the IRS. Below is more information for those common and lesser-known tax scams to watch out for.

Employment Identity Theft Scams: If you ever receive documentation in the mail indicating earned income that you are not aware of, it may mean that someone else has used your Social Security number to gain employment.

Account Takeover Scams: If, when filing your tax return, you receive a letter from the IRS saying that you have already filed, it it likely that someone else has filed a fraudulent return on your behalf, in order to steal your refund.

Tax Preparer Scams: In an old scam that’s still in play, tax preparers tell clients they must pay back stimulus payments, and then pocket the money. Ads are also placed by scammers posing as accountants to get your returns. Make sure you do research and choose your tax preparer wisely.

Late Payment Scam: As people fall behind on their taxes, lists are created and are printed in the local paper as public record. Thieves can use these lists to call unassuming people and pose as collectors.

Internet Phishing Scams: The IRS doesn’t send emails. Phony IRS emails that try to lure taxpayers into giving out personal information are a common scam. The messages are generally intended to convince recipients to provide personal or financial information that enables the perpetrators to commit credit card or bank fraud, or other forms of identity theft. Unless you are actively engaged in dialogue with an IRS agent, do not respond to emails or phone calls supposedly coming from the IRS.

IRS Scams: If a scammer posing as an IRS agent ever contacts you, they may already have some of your personal information, which they can use to try to convince you that they are actually from the IRS. This data could come from public records or even your trash. The scammer will often put pressure on you to comply with their request, or even offer you a tax refund.

Here are some suggestions to protect yourself and make sure that you get your return:

1. Protect yourself by filing early. It seems crazy to think that someone would fraudulently file taxes in your name, but it’s being done. Once they find a few W2s or other tax-related documents, they can file in your name and claim your refund before you’ve even begun the process. File before they do.

2. Secure your mail with a locking mailbox. Mail is stolen every day, and tax forms tend to include Social Security numbers, making them especially valuable to a thief. Don’t send out your tax return by sticking it in your home mailbox. Instead, take it to the post office or use a big blue post office drop box.

3. Protect your PC. Whether or not you file online, securing your PCs is essential. Make sure you have updated antivirus software, a two-way firewall, that you run spyware removal software regularly, and that your wireless Internet connection is protected with a network key.

If you are ever a victim of a scam involving the IRS, you may be disappointed by the way it is handled by government agencies. They simply don’t allocate the resources to fix this problem proactively, nor are they adept at responding once it has occurred. The biggest issue is the thief’s privacy. Even if you think you know who is responsible, neither the IRS nor any other government agency will release that information. All you can do is follow the IRS’s instructions for resolving the issue. Be patient, as rectifying it may take many hours, days, or weeks. If you subscribe to an identity theft protection service, a fraud resolution agent may be able to help.

McAfee Identity Protection includes proactive identity surveillance to monitor subscribers’ credit and personal information, as well as live access to fraud resolution agents. For additional tips, visit CounterIdentityTheft.com.

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him explain how a person becomes an identity theft victim on CounterIdentityTheft.com (Disclosures)