Posts

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.

IRS Identity Theft Prevention Tool hacked

The Identity Protection PIN tool on the IRS.gov site has been temporarily suspended—because it was recently hacked into. The tool provides retrieval of forgotten or lost IP PINs to users who want an extra layer of protection against identity theft.

9DBut some users who received the IP PINs recently via the online tool learned that a thief had used their IP PIN to file tax returns in their name.

So now, for the moment, you cannot use the IRS’s online function to retrieve your IP PIN; meanwhile, the IRS is investigating the hack.

The online tool attracts taxpayers who lost or forgot the six-digit IP PIN they were issued via snail mail. Despite the suspension of the tool, taxpayers are encouraged to file their returns without any qualms. The IP PINs purpose is to add additional protection to the user, but is not required to process a tax return.

Lesson learned: If you ever receive an IP PIN in the future…memorize it or write it down in hardcopy and keep in a safe place.

Tips from the IRS

  • There will always be someone who misplaces or accidentally throws out the letter containing the IP PIN, or who intentionally discards the document but then can’t remember the number and never wrote it down. They should call the IRS in the wake of this suspension.
  • Over the phone, they will need to verify their identity, after which they will receive a letter with the IP PIN.
  • If since the first of this year the taxpayer has moved, they will need to file a paper return, and this will take longer to process if it doesn’t contain an IP PIN.
  • The IP PIN is given out to those at risk or who feel at risk for tax identity theft. But again, it’s not necessary to use it if it’s been lost or forgotten. But for those who managed to retrieve their number, they should include it on their tax return.

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

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.

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.

Beware every time the Phone rings

Don’t assume you’ll never be targeted by phone scammers just because you don’t have a cell phone; they continue to feast on landline users, especially those over 50.

9D“This is the IRS…”

  • Drill this into your head: The IRS never calls to collect back taxes. NEVER.
  • A common ploy is to threaten that the listener will go to prison if they don’t pay up immediately.
  • If you really do owe taxes, the IRS will contact you alright—but via snail mail, not a phone call, text or e-mail.
  • Scam calls may also sound professional with no threats, and may be a pre-recorded woman’s voice.
  • Scammers can make the caller ID show “IRS.”

Charities and Fundraisers

  • A call comes from the fraudster, claiming he represents a charity and wants your donation. The con artist may even say he’s with the local police department.
  • Want to help mankind? Hang up on the caller and give to a reputable foundation or give out homemade sack lunches to the homeless.
  • Go online and search the organization in question to verify they’re legit.
  • If the call has an automated message, hang up immediately.
  • A legitimate organization will not request your Social Security number or personal financial information.

“You’ve won a prize!”

  • No, you haven’t. These are scams; hang up.

Tech support never calls you…

  • You must call them first. So if you get a call from “tech support” asking for personal information, it’s a scam. Geek squads don’t just up and call people.
  • A call about installing an update is a scam.
  • Scammers can make the caller ID show “Microsoft.”

“Hi Grandma, it’s your favorite grandson!”

  • If relatives call asking for money, hang up and call them to verify that said caller is really your relative.

Avoiding Scam Calls

  • Must you answer the phone every time it rings? It’s perfectly legal to ignore a ringing phone.
  • If your phone has caller block, input numbers from suspected scammers. Next time they call, there’ll be barely one ring, then the caller will be blocked.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.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.

Don’t be scammed into paying Back Taxes

It’s easy to scam someone who did something wrong by telling them they need to fix their mistake. This is why thousands of people get scammed into paying back taxes to the IRS—the IRS has nothing to do with these scams, of course, but the predators prey on peoples’ fear of Uncle Sam. It all begins with the fraudster making a phone call, pretending to be an IRS employee.

9DThey have other tricks up their sleeve too, such as making the caller ID show a number that appears to be coming from the IRS and identifying themselves with phony IRS badge numbers. They’ll even leave urgent messages if they get voicemail.

Preying on emotions, the crook gets vulnerable people to give up private information right then and there—enough information for the crook to commit some kind of identity theft crime. When many people hear “IRS,” they get scared. Scammers have ripped off millions of dollars as a result.

The IRS won’t give you a phone call if you’re delinquent in your tax payment. They’ll snail mail you an official notice instead. In fact, the IRS, despite its negative stereotype, won’t use scare tactics or threatening verbiage. Anyone on the phone who does this is pond scum; hang up immediately.

The IRS also won’t ever just up and e-mail you about back taxes. If you see “IRS” in a subject line, do not open it. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov and delete it.

If you want to have a little fun with these thieves, then if you ever get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, nonchalantly tell them that you yourself work for the IRS. See what happens.

A woman in Denver, Rachel Fitzsimmons, received calls from the “IRS” telling her they were filing a lawsuit against her. The message was a robotic-sounding female voice that left a call-back number. At first she was unnerved, but then after doing some research, recognized this as a scam. She called back the number, let the man talk a little with the threat, then told him she worked for the IRS (she doesn’t). He immediately hung up. Busted!

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