Beware: dangerous tax account transcript scam runs rampant

  iStock and REM Cycle

iStock and REM Cycle

Posted by Evan Piccirillo, CPA

Here is something important to know: the IRS does not send unsolicited emails to taxpayers. Please remember that; it just might save your assets.

Due to a spike in reported cases, the IRS has recently warned taxpayers of a scam involving the malware known as “Emotet.” Emotet is a computer virus distributed as a trojan, meaning that it is sent under the guise of something legitimate. In this case, you may receive an email about a tax account transcript from the IRS. If you open an attachment or click on a link, you are at risk of the virus finding its way onto your machine. The malevolent parties will send the fraudulent email to thousands of email addresses, hoping that a few will take the bait. This process is commonly referred to as phishing (no relation to the band Phish). Once the malware has infected a computer or network, information can be stolen and used maliciously by outside parties. The warning from the IRS is primarily directed towards businesses, but it is a good reminder for all taxpayers that the IRS has a very specific methodology when reaching out to taxpayers.

In nearly all cases, the IRS will first reach out through the mail in letter form, referred to as a notice. The notice will contain information about why the IRS has attempted to contact you and actions to take, if any. The common reasons to receive a notice are: an adjustment to a tax return, a request for a tax return, a tax bill, or being selected for an audit. Here is something else important: immediately turn that notice over to your tax preparer. A timely response is important when resolving IRS notices. If the IRS has not received a response to an initial notice or several follow-up notices, a representative may indeed show up in person.

Here are some red flags that may clue you in on an attempted scam: You are asked for a specific type of payment like a gift card, you are asked to provide credit card numbers over the phone, you are not advised of your rights as a taxpayer. Also, be very suspicious if you are threatened with law enforcement if you don’t pay. I urge you to be cautiously skeptical and always reach out to your tax preparer or advisor before responding.

Lucky for us, the IRS has provided useful information, details, and links on their website to help taxpayers identify what is legitimate and what is bogus.

I recently received a voicemail from “the IRS” using a computerized voice informing me that an arrest warrant had been issued for me. Oh, dear! And both me and my assets were being monitored—very scary! They demanded immediate payment and left a direct line for me to call them back. I called, but sadly no one answered. Fortunately for me, I am fairly well-informed and realized right away that this is a poor attempt at a scam. Whew! I hope that after reading this, you’ll be well-informed, too.