November 20, 2014 | Have you ever received a suspicious e-mail or telephone call from someone purporting to be from the U.S. IRS or Treasury Department or your host country’s tax authority? Many people – including those on international assignment – have been contacted at some point by scammers or “phishers” seeking confidential financial information or other personally identifiable information, like social security numbers. In this video, Scott Shaughnessy and Molli Hull, with the Global Mobility Services group at Washington National Tax, discuss what this sort of contact may look like and what you can do if you have been contacted by a scammer or been the victim of identity theft.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: Hello, I'm Scott Shaughnessy, and Molli Hull with Washington National Tax has joined us today to discuss the growing nuisance -- in fact, a growing problem, scams to defraud taxpayers.
Molli, the IRS recently indicated that they continue to hear from taxpayers who receive unsolicited phone calls from individuals demanding payment and fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS. In fact, in a recent newsletter, the IRS received over 90,000 complaints through their telephone hotline and to date have identified 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million due to these scams.
Actually, in the last week or two, a fraud alert was issued by the IRS that scammers were using e-mails and Websites and making contact with international financial institutions that are registered to comply with FATCA. They're seeking account holder identities and financial account information.
MOLLI HULL: Yeah, it's a real problem, Scott. In fact, there was a recent case where the IRS criminal division broke up a group down in Alabama who had spent two years accumulating people's identities, stealing them, and then filed 500 returns with fraudulent refunds amounting to over $1 million. These refunds came in the nature of checks from the Treasury, direct deposit to bank accounts, and debit cards were issued.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: That's just amazing. You know, and the problem just seems to be getting worse and worse with our increasing reliance on technology for commerce, for communications, these identity thieves, these scammers, are becoming more and more sophisticated. You know, we've heard -- we've all heard the recent news stories about information security breaches at the government, large retailers and important banking institutions.
MOLLI HULL: Yeah, but where we usually hear from it, Scott, is from our individual taxpayers who have received an e-mail, for example, purporting to be the from the IRS. They even have an IRS logo on the e-mail, so it looks very real. And they're asking for information such as social security numbers, or as you said, bank account numbers or things like that.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: Many of these attempts seem to come largely by e-mail. Are there other ways that these groups or individuals may attempt to "phish"?
MOLLI HULL: Absolutely. They may be trying to reach people by phone or by fax or by text message, social media, all different kinds of ways. I have actually been phoned by someone purporting to be from the IRS trying to get my information.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: Wow. I'm just curious. On the caller ID, did it look like it was, in fact, legitimately from the IRS.
MOLLI HULL: It absolutely did. It showed as being from the IRS. So, had I not known better, I probably would have given them the information they were asking for.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: Wow. That's tricky, and actually pretty scary. Certainly if we're talking about e-mail, where e-mails are concerned, if there is a link in the e-mail, don't click on it. If there is an attached document, don't launch it if the e-mail looks suspicious.
MOLLI HULL: And in addition, Scott, if somebody gets this kind of thing, they should contact their tax advisor if they have one so that person can look into it because they'll have a lot more experience with these fraudulent activities. And they can forward the e-mail to an IRS e-mail that the IRS can then look into it and let them know if anything is going on.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: A lot of people may not know, but the IRS does have a webpage that offers advice and helpful steps to follow if you've been a victim or a near victim of fraud. Isn't that right?
MOLLI HULL: That's right. Actually, the IRS website will provide a lot of information to allow the individuals to find out what to do if they have been a victim or they think they've been a victim, some proactive steps they can take, and the website, I believe, also provides the e-mail address to send any potentially fraudulent e-mails through to the IRS to investigate.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: In addition to that, I understand the IRS has put out publication 4535, which is available on their website. It informs taxpayers how to be wary of identity theft, what to do in case they've been a victim or suspect they have been a victim of identity theft, and this publication is available in Spanish, Vietnamese and English.
I also understand they put up a video in American sign language, and there is another video they put up there called the dirty dozen tax scams.
MOLLI HULL: And they also -- if individuals go to visit this IRS website, there are some podcasts available there as well. But if somebody thinks they have actually been a victim of identity theft, they can go to the IRS website, IRS.gov, and get the identity theft affidavit form and send that into the IRS. This will flag it to the IRS so they can keep an eye out for any filings using that individual's social security number, and in response the IRS will also send the individual what they can call an IP pin, which is an identity protection pin which the individual will use on a go-forward basis for any tax filings.
And the IRS will actually furnish that individual with a new one, unique, every single year so they're never using the same number twice.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: So if you believe somebody has used your social security number fraudulently, you should notify the IRS immediately because this identity theft affidavit that you just mentioned can go a long way to helping smooth future tax filings.
MOLLI HULL: That's right, Scott.
SCOTT SHAUGHNESSY: Well, these are lots of good points, Molli; very interesting, in fact. And thanks so much for joining us today.
Generally speaking, if you believe you've been the victim of identity theft or you are actually are the victim of identity theft, contact your financial institutions, including your credit card companies, and certainly contact the tax authority in your country. In the case of the United States, that's the IRS.
Thank you for joining us today.