As an investigative reporter, I can usually sniff out a scam instantly. But a message that showed up in my NBC e-mail box this week even made me do a double take. It was enough to have me wondering if the e-mail was a real note from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), claiming I had a tax refund owed to me. Wow, I thought, even my accountant hadn't told me about this refund. The sender was listed as "Internal Revenue Service."
The e-mail said I had a refund due to me and the IRS would deposit this money directly in my VISA or MasterCard account. The note went on to say that to get my refund, all I had to do was fill out the attached form, and give them my credit card number (the first red flag of a potential scam) and give them some other personal information, like my social security number (another huge red flag).
I placed one call to the IRS to find out that this is a big scam, and thousands of people are getting these same e-mails lately.
"There are crooks behind this scam, trying to steal your identity," said IRS spokesman Victor Omelczenko.
So how can you tell if the e-mail you've received is from the real IRS, or if it's a scam from identity thieves? First, the IRS tells me, it never communicates with the public by e-mail. Never. And according to IRS spokesman Omelczenko, the IRS would never send you a letter requesting personal information like your social security number.
"We already have your personal information," he says, "so why would we ask you for it again?"
These tax refund scams are most widespread right now, during and right after tax-filing season, when many people can be duped into thinking they have a refund coming. The IRS has simple advice to avoid getting scammed: if you get any e-mail that appears to come from the IRS, don't reply to it. Period.
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For more information on these scams, go to the REAL IRS website.
Do you have a story for Joel to investigate? E-mail him at Joel.Grover@nbcuni.com