If you receive an unsolicited e-mail saying you're the subject of an Internal Revenue Service audit or owed a federal tax refund, don't believe it.
And whatever you do, don't click on any links or attachments in it. Instead, forward it to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org to help it investigate such phishing scams.
"The IRS doesn't send e-mails as a way to make initial contact," said Dan Boone, Nashville-based IRS spokesman for Tennessee and Alabama. "They are kind of scary. They say you're under criminal investigation."
During a Thursday visit to the Tri-Cities, Boone in an interview said recent e-mail scams intend to fool people into believing they are under investigation by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.
If someone clicks on a link or attachment, a Trojan horse is activated that can take over a computer's hard drive and allow someone to have remote access to the computer or simply wipe out or corrupt all files on the hard drive.
Other scams suggest a customer filed a complaint against a company and the IRS can act as an arbitrator. Latest versions appear to be aimed at business as well as individual taxpayers.
Boone said he personally knows of no one who fell prey to the bogus investigation scam, but he said many people forward the e-mails or print them out and mail or bring them to an IRS office.
The IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails or ask for or provide detailed personal and financial information such as PIN numbers, passwords or similar information from credit cards and financial accounts, he said.
"Everyone should beware of these scam artists," Kevin Brown, acting IRS commissioner, said in a recent news release. "Always exercise caution when you receive unsolicited e-mails or e-mails from senders you don't know."
Other recent scams include enticing taxpayers to click their way to fake IRS Web sites that ask for bank account numbers. Another widespread e-mail says the IRS is holding a refund, often $63.80, and seeks financial account information. And another claims the IRS' "anti-fraud commission" is investigating their tax returns.
Boone said initial notification of investigations from the IRS come in the U.S. mail, and sensitive information will not be sought or given out by the IRS via e-mail.
The IRS will share information on tax law via e-mail, upon request, but not on sensitive information since e-mail is not secure.
Since the IRS set up the e-mail to report phishing last year, it has received more than 17,700 e-mails reporting more than 240 separate phishing incidents. Investigators from the IRS, with help from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team and various Internet providers and international CERT teams, have identified host sites in at least 27 different countries, including the United States.
"It's pretty much impossible to stop them because they're coming from all over the world," Boone said.
On other tax matters, Boone said taxpayers wanting the status of a refund can go to www.irs.gov and click on "Where's My Refund?" or call 1-800-829-1954.
Those unhappy with the amount of refund for 2006 should make changes in their withholdings this year. For more information, go to the online IRS Withholding Calculator and then adjust the withholdings with a W-4 form.
And those who have a problem with the IRS that is unresolved after going through the normal agency channels can contact the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service. Contact the service through the listing on www.IRS.gov, call (877) 777-4778 or look in IRS Publication 1546.