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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite yearly warnings and stories of those falling victim to potential tax return scams, the Internal Revenue Service has once again reminded taxpayers to be alert for predators who may contact them by email, telephone, fax or snail mail pretending to be the real IRS. They warn that “many of these scams fraudulently use the Internal Revenue Service name or logo as a lure to make the communication more authentic and enticing."
If you are surfing the Internet for the official site of the Internal Revenue Service, do not mistakenly click on www.IRS.com. This website is privately owned by Banks.com and is not related to the governmental entity that we have all grown to love and respect.
Similar to the official departmental website, creators of misleading websites have also paid search engine companies to optimize their links to ensure they appear at the top of search results. When tax filers search for the IRS, they often come across private companies offering tax related services for a fee.
Most, if not all of the services or forms, are offered free of charge by the Internal Revenue Service.
According to WHOIS, a popular Internet directory that identifies domain owners, the IRS.com domain name was registered in 1999 by the seemingly legitimate Banks.com, Inc. The banner headline on the homepage suggests an official association with the real Internal Revenue Service: “US Tax Center — Tax Information You Can Trust.”
Like all U.S. government agencies, the Internal Revenue Service uses the “.gov” top-level domain name and can be found at www.IRS.gov.
Despite the misleading “US Tax Center” headline, the IRS.com website is not affiliated with the federal government or the Internal Revenue Service. While the U.S. Tax Center seemingly appears legitimate, it is impossible to contact, offering no phone number or email address and only an online “contact us” form.
Several “how-to” related articles redirect consumers to websites offering paid services that could make them deceptively believe they are dealing with the real Internal Revenue Service.
The goal of potential scammers is to trick unsuspecting consumers into revealing personal information such as name, address, date of birth, Social Security, credit card or PIN numbers and other confidential information. With this information, scammers steal money or commit identity theft.
Personal identifying information should never be revealed until verification is made upon a legitimate request.
The Internal Revenue Service advises taxpayers on how to respond when they receive a suspicious email, telephone call, fax or letter:
- The IRS does not request detailed personal and financial information like credit card or PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information.
- The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through email and will not send a message about your tax account. If you receive an email from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service or directing you to an IRS site; do not reply to the message, click on any of the links, or open any of the attachments.
- The official IRS website is http://www.irs.gov. Do not be confused or misled by websites claiming to be the Internal Revenue Service but ending in .com, .net, .org, .us, or designations other than .gov. If you discover a website claiming to be the IRS but suspect it is bogus, do not provide personal information and report it to the IRS immediately.
- If you receive an email, telephone call, fax or letter from an individual claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, but suspect they are not, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine their legitimacy. In the form of a fake IRS email, this scam is known as phishing.
- Become proactive in shutting down scams and prevent others from being victimized. Report scams and learn what to do if you have been victimized at http://www.irs.gov, keyword "phishing,” or email the IRS at email@example.com.
Consumers who believe they have been victimized by a potential IRS scammer should visit the Federal Trade Commission related website OnGuardOnline.gov. The Internal Revenue Service is one of the site sponsors.
With most returns being filed by the April 15th deadline, the IRS expects to receive more than 147 million individual tax returns this year. While about 75 percent of filers are expected to receive a refund, victims of potential scams or identity theft may wait months for their money.
Bill Lewis is the principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates and host of "The Credit Report with Bill Lewis" — a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends and issues on AM 740 WSBR in south Florida.