Friday, December 5, 2008

No tax relief here. Watch your wallet

It looks like a creaky old tax phishing scam is getting a new life.

More e-mail boxes around Kansas City and the rest of the country are filling up with fake Internal Revenue Service letters and forms advising recipients that as non-resident aliens, they are exempt from reporting and paying taxes on some money. The senders also send along an official looking, but totally fake, tax form and fax number to help you identify and your bank accounts.

The communication is a scam and it is not from the IRS, said Michael Devine, an IRS spokesman in St. Louis. It appears to be a revival of a 2004 identity theft scam that was loosely based on a real tax form that financial institutions, but not the IRS, use to make some specific withholding calculations for overseas investors.

But the phony form going around now asks for a lot more personal information that someone would need to access your bank account or worse, Devine said.

“It even asks for mother’s maiden name, since being able to give that name is often part of a financial institution’s security protocol, “ he said.

There are a couple easy ways to guard against being taken by these scams. First, remember that IRS never initiates correspondence with a taxpayer by e-mail. Second, even if you get e-mail that really looks official, read it carefully.

“If it’s too good to be true or it doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s probably a scam,” Devine said.

Techie Diva Gina Hughes outlines some more tax season scams to watch for on Yahoo. Posters on the blog list some they already found earlier this year. And the Dumb Little Man personal finance blog recently recapped things we can do generally to avoid identity theft.

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