Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2008 Issue

Here Is A Tax Refund You Do Not Want

Irs

This "refund" will cost you.


By Michael Stillman

An insidious "phishing" expedition has been launched in time for the tax refund season. "Phishing" is the process whereby some larcenous-minded individual tries to trick you into revealing key personal information, such as credit card or social security numbers, over the internet. This one looks like an official notice from the IRS, promising a refund. This is one "refund" you do not want.

Most "phishing" emails are obvious these days. It's hard to imagine anyone still sends bank information to a Nigerian dictator's widow in hopes of getting a 20% share of a hidden $50 million account. It also seems unlikely that many still respond to a bank demand to update your information or your account will be closed, especially since you receive lots of these from banks where you don't even have an account. However, this one comes on a very official looking, yet easy to use form, spelling out how to get your refund. It even tells you exactly how much you will receive. And, in what is the ultimate indicium of authenticity, it is written in English that sounds as if it were written by an American, rather than an Eastern European (click the thumbnail image at the top to see this notice).

So how do you get your refund? Simple. Just give them your name, debit card number, expiration, the CVV code (that three-digit number on the back of your card), and your "electronic pin," the pin number you use at your ATM. The "IRS" will then credit your account with the full amount of your refund. Sure they will.

The one thing that seemed odd about this was that the IRS was demanding you supply a debit card. I don't have a debit card. However, since a debit card provides direct access into your bank account, I imagine this must be more desirable than a credit card for thieves.

Needless to say, you should never respond to such messages. Well... maybe not entirely "needless" to say because we would not continue to receive these messages if no one was fooled by them. However, if you have any doubt about such a notice, remember that the IRS has made it explicitly clear that they do not contact people by email, and certainly do not give out refunds that way. If they have money to send you, it will come in your physical mailbox, not your electronic one. The check is definitely not in the email.

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