By Steve Julal
While The IRS, state tax agencies and numerous people in the tax and accounting industry are working together to warn tax professionals and their clients about phishing scams, they are still all too common. Here’s what you need to know about the two most recent scams: fake charities that take advantage of people’s generosity during times of natural disasters and IRS/FBI-themed ransomware.
Fake Charity Scams Relating to Hurricanes
With many cities throughout the south still reeling from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, many people are wondering how they can help. One of the best ways to do this is by donating to a charity that helps victims affected by natural disasters. Unfortunately, however, due to the prevalence of tax scams, taxpayers need to make sure the organization they donate to is not a fake charity set up by unscrupulous criminals looking to make a fast buck or get people’s personal information.
How the Fake Charity Scam Works
These types of fraudulent schemes usually involve contact by telephone, social media, email or in-person solicitations. Criminals typically send emails that steer recipients to bogus websites that appear to be affiliated with legitimate charitable causes. These sites frequently mimic the sites of, or use names similar to, legitimate charities, or claim to be affiliated with legitimate charities in order to persuade people to send money or provide personal financial information that can be used to steal identities or financial resources.
What to Watch out for
Follow these tips if you want to make a disaster-related charitable donation but avoid falling victim to scam artists:
- Donate to recognized charities. IRS.gov has the tools people need to quickly and easily check the status of charitable organizations.
- Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, “Exempt Organizations Select Check” which people can use to find qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
- Don’t give out personal financial information–such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords–to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal a donor’s identity and money.
- Never give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the donation.
- Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, available on IRS.gov. This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making legitimate tax-deductible donations. Among other things, it also provides complete details on what records to keep.
Taxpayers suspecting fraud by email should visit IRS.gov and search for the keywords “Report Phishing.” More information about tax scams and schemes may be found at IRS.gov using the keywords “scams and schemes.” Details on available relief can be found on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov as well.
Don’t hesitate to call the office if you have any questions or concerns or believe you have been a victim of a fake charity scam.
IRS/FBI-Themed Ransomware Scams
There’s also a new phishing scheme that impersonates the IRS and the FBI as part of a ransomware scam to take computer data hostage. The scam email uses the emblems of both the IRS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It tries to entice users to select a “here” link to download a fake FBI questionnaire. Instead, the link downloads a certain type of malware called ransomware that prevents users from accessing data stored on their device unless they pay money to the scammers.
What to do if you are a Victim of a Ransomeware Scam
Do not pay a ransom. Paying it further encourages the criminals, and frequently the scammers won’t provide the decryption key even after a ransom is paid. Victims should immediately report any ransomware attempt or attack to the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.IC3.gov). Forward any IRS-themed scams to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about IRS Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts visit the IRS website
People should stay vigilant against email scams that try to impersonate the IRS and other agencies that try to lure you into clicking a link or opening an attachment. As a reminder, the IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.