Monday, December 6, 2010

Scam Tax E-mails

Notification: Your Federal Tax Payment has been Rejected.

Status of your Tax Payment is Declined.

Those are the ominous opening words of the latest e-mail scam I received. Or rather, they would be ominous if in December I was still trying to make a tax payment. In November I also received similar supposedly official notices, from which I can only conclude that these are meant to catch people who do their taxes at the last minute in October, when the standard IRS-allowed filing delay is about to expire. It’s not a payment delay, by the way. It’s a filing delay. Your payment is due April 15. You can take until October 15 to file your return once you execute a simple form asking for more time.

There is invisible code in every line of this scam e-mail, so it’s dangerous to do anything more than delete it as fast as possible.

I pity the fool who believes this scam e-mail. Trust me on this: the IRS does not decline payments. The IRS cheerfully takes your money, and if there is something squirrelly about the situation, has two defaults. Either the IRS sends you a polite note asking what the money was for, or the IRS sends you a letter saying you owe more. The IRS loves money and any money you offer is accepted. Even if you make out the check wrong, the IRS will still cash it.

This whole scam setup raises the question, who is the scammer expecting to fall for this? Someone in deep trouble with the IRS, of course. Would that person be doing e-mail? E-mail more and more is trending old---Baby Boomer age---whereas younger people don’t bother with it. They text or tweet or just don’t write anything. Very old people hardly use computers, though. Most are proud and happy to be computer-free. A few do, and perhaps they are credulous enough to believe such scams. What about people whose grasp of American laws, and IRS behavior, is weak? Ah, there’s a likely subset. The ignorant are the true targets here.

Basically, this scam capitalizes on panic. If your situation with the IRS is already causing you deep fear, or you view the IRS as a confusing and unyielding monolith (pretty accurate view), this scam might touch you on a nerve. Do I have to warn you that it is a scam? I sure hope not. Fake bank notices, fake PayPal notices, fake eBay notices, and so on are cluttering up Inboxes everywhere. Although your Internet service provider may filter most spam, you still have the responsibility of recognizing improper and misleading communications. The IRS is moving toward requiring all taxpayers to e-file, but currently the IRS does not e-mail. It still communicates by snail mail. In duplicate. Don’t expect e-mails from this agency anytime soon.

Here’s a hint. Finish and file your taxes by April 15. Then these scammers won’t have a chance to catch you in a weak moment.