The Department of Revenue issued a reminder to taxpayers to be cautious of scams and “phishing” schemes that are being used by criminals to steal taxpayers’ money and personal financial information.
“These scams are especially common at this time of year when people start to file their personal income tax returns,” Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said. “Criminals use high-pressure tactics and threats to pressure hard-working Pennsylvanians into providing money or sensitive information. We want the public to be aware of these scams to avoid taking action that they’ll regret.”
Common Scam: Criminals posing as a government agency
One prevalent scam involves phony “Final Demand For Payment” notices that have been mailed to many taxpayers. The notices from the “Tax Processing Center” threaten the seizure of a taxpayer’s property if the recipient of the notice fails to make immediate payment to the “State of Pennsylvania.” The notices also provide an 800-number to call to “avoid enforcement.”
This is a classic scam that uses pressure tactics and fear to motivate the recipient into taking immediate action. Criminals may also access public records so they can include taxpayer-specific information on the notices to make them appear legitimate.
Email, ‘phishing,’ and malware scams
Pennsylvanians should beware of criminals using “phishing” schemes, which involve the use of fraudulent email messages, deceptive software, or malicious files that are designed to steal sensitive information, such as passwords, usernames, or personal financial information. Scammers often use this information to steal your money, your identity, or both.
In addition to individual taxpayers, the IRS reports that these schemes have targeted tax professionals, payroll professionals, human resources personnel, and school administrators.
In one common scam publicized by the IRS, criminals pose as a person or organization the taxpayer trusts or recognizes. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name, or they may pose as a bank, credit card company, or tax software provider.
Criminals also go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages. These criminals hope victims will “take the bait” and provide money, passwords, Social Security numbers, and other information that can lead to identity theft.
Tips to avoid scams
The Department of Revenue is encouraging Pennsylvanians to keep the following tips in mind to safeguard against these deceptive scams:
• Look for imposters: Many times, criminals will pose as a government entity or an official business. If you are targeted by a con artist through the mail, phone, or email, do not provide personal information or money until you are sure you are speaking to a legitimate representative.
• Examine notifications and electronic messages: Criminals often design vague communications to cast a wide net to lure in as many victims as possible. Examine questionable notices for identifying information that can be verified. Look for blatant factual errors and other inconsistencies, such as a fake return address. If the notice is unexpected and states “This Is Your Final Notice,” take a moment and verify its legitimacy. The Department of Revenue will send multiple letters to taxpayers if there is a legitimate liability owed.
• Approach unusual attachments and links with caution: Scammers may include a link or an attachment to an email that is infected with malware that can download malicious software. Spyware can track the recipient’s keystrokes to obtain passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information.
• Unusual payment methods: Avoid scenarios where you are asked to pay your debt with reloadable debit cards, gift cards, or money wiring services. The Department of Revenue and other government agencies will never ask you to pay an outstanding liability using these payment methods.
• Conduct research online: Using information included in a potentially fraudulent notice, such as company name, address, or telephone number, conduct a search online to see if a scam has been reported by other people or government agencies.
Steps to follow if you are a victim of a scam
The Department of Revenue reminds taxpayers that it has a Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft and combating tax refund fraud.
If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, please contact the Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit at 717-772-9297.
For more information on ways to protect yourself, visit Revenue’s Identity Theft Victim Assistance webpage. You can also find further information about protecting yourself online.