5 On Your Side

'IRS' E-Mail Scam Aims at Snaring Identity

Posted August 22, 2007
Updated August 23, 2007

No one expects good news from the Internal Revenue Service, but an e-mail scam promises exactly that.

The IRS is warning Internet users to be on alert for an e-mail that promises a tax refund and asks users to enter their bank card information. The e-mail appears to come from an address ending in "IRS.gov."

The IRS said almost 18,000 people have reported similar e-mails. Investigators identified host sites from the e-mail originated in 28 countries, including the United States.

John Radford, who received the scam e-mail, said the promise of "Good news!" tipped him off that the e-mail might be bogus.

"You're getting an e-mail from the IRS, but then it doesn't say 'dear so-and-so.' It just says 'good news,' and you start to smell something right there," Radford said. "And as you call it, you smell a phish."

The e-mail says recipients are "eligible to receive a tax refund of $93.82" and asks them to click a link and then enter their bank card information. The e-mail says the IRS will accept only cards linked to checking or savings accounts.

"See, that's the phishing hook going right there," Radford said.

Even users who don't enter their card information place themselves at risk for identity theft if they click on the link or open attachments from the e-mail.

"They concentrate on that dollar sign, and then they concentrate on that link. They click on it, and then they've stepped on a little land mine," Radford said.

The IRS said that in other e-mail scams, recipients were told the agency was investigating them for submitting a false tax return. Another scam catches recipients by suggesting an anti-fraud commission is investigating their tax return.

"It's real scary. It's cyber-scary," Radford said.

5 On Your Side cautions that the IRS and other reputable institutions never use unsolicited e-mails to ask for personal information.

Radford likened the scam to a stranger asking for the keys to your house.

"We've met what, five minutes ago? And suppose you say, 'Let me have the key to your house now that we've met,'" Radford said. "That's what I equate it to."


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  • They call me CATMAN Aug 24, 2007


  • FE Aug 24, 2007

    TruthBKnown, although I understand where you're coming from, I would advise you to be VERY careful about "responding" to the phishing scams with fake names and addresses.

    Many of these "greetings" put your own computer (or your employer's ??) at risk merely by opening the message, and even more so by visiting the link to retrieve your card or to supply fake names.

    (My earlier msg of 08/23 has more details.)

  • gratefultoGOD Aug 23, 2007

    This guy is great! I enjoyed the story and shared it with friends. WRAL should get RADFORD to be a regular on tax problems, email, computer questions etc. He adds a nice touch with the humor! Having been with State Revenue for years, he knows his "stuff"!

  • WardofTheState Aug 23, 2007

    Wondered why I was suddenly getting a bunch of greeting cards...they're in the digital File 13 along with the long-awaited "My Brother the Nigerian Finance Minister."

  • TruthBKnown Aug 23, 2007

    I like to respond to these phishing emails. I always fill out bogus name, address and account information, using whatever profane words hit my fancy. My hope is to help clog the scammers database was useless data.

    If more people did this (say everybody?) they would have so much useless data to wade through that they would probably just give up the cause.

    Come to think of it, if we use more realistic sounding information, it will make it even harder for them to weed through it. Curse words are easier to spot.

  • carolinacurl Aug 23, 2007

    This needs to be booted to news headlines.

  • skypilot-not Aug 23, 2007

    So you folks are telling me that I really did not win that international lottery that I did not enter? Now my whole day is ruined....

  • OALA Aug 23, 2007

    I have received this "IRS" email three times now. The IRS doesn't like to give your money back...

  • Huey Aug 23, 2007

    I've gotten so much phoney emails from so many spammers I have
    been waiting for one saying it's from God. As for opening them
    I go by the smell rule. If it don't smell just right them give
    it a miss. And use a good filter. Be careful out there folks.

  • Squeek Aug 23, 2007

    Well now, William Tell, aren't you smart.