Phishing Emails Getting Harder to Spot

It seems as if every day the news is broadcasting another story about identity theft, and the need to stay alert. As financial and accounting professionals, we know all too well that having your identity stolen is a never-ending nightmare that takes an inordinate amount of time and effort to wake up from. In some cases the process can take years, and can cause tremendous stress and aggravation. As is so often the case, the best offense is a good defense – that means that you need to be alert, as identity thieves are very creative, and are constantly inventing new ways to catch you with your guard down and get you to provide them with your personal information.

It is important that you stop and think twice or even three times before providing anybody at all with information such as your Social Security number, your credit card numbers, your bank account numbers or any of your passwords. These days one of the most popular and effective methods that identity thieves use is to send out a cleverly designed email that looks as if it was sent from a legitimate source, such as your credit card company or the IRS. These attempts are known as phishing expeditions.

The phishing expedition emails are meticulously laid out – they will often include the correct company logo and use official-sounding language to tell you that your account has been compromised and that it is urgent that you click through to a link to them and provide them with your personal information. Doing so is a mistake.  It is essential that you remember that no legitimate company would send out something as unprotected as an email to ask you to confirm such confidential information. You should immediately delete these emails, and never click on the links that they provide.
If you are uncertain about the legitimacy of one of these emails, you can telephone the toll-free number that is on the back of your credit card to check on whether they needed to speak to you about a security issue.

The emails that have most frequently been seen include:

  • Emails purporting to have been sent by the Internal Revenue Service and claiming that you are entitled to a refund that they are unable to send to you without getting some information (i.e., your Social Security Number or bank account number for direct deposit purposes). The IRS would never send an email to gather this type of information. 
    If you are uncertain about the veracity of the email and want to check, call your local IRS office. When you initiate the call to them (and to a number that you look up yourself on the Internet or in the phone book) it is okay to provide identifying information.
  • Emails purporting to be from your bank and stating that they have money that they need to deposit into your account but need to confirm the bank account number. Again, your bank would not initiate this type of transaction via email. Call your bank if you are unsure, or better yet, go into the local branch and show them the email that you received.
  • Emails from unknown people claiming that they are notifying you of money due you from an inheritance, and that they need your bank account number in order to deposit the money.

In each of these cases, providing the requested information opens you up to a thief accessing your account and then proceeding to use your information to further destroy your financial standing. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is – that’s one important rule. The other is that if somebody contacts you and asks for personal information, your antenna should immediately go up and you should immediately be suspicious.

It is important to take note that ignoring or deleting an email from the IRS, or your bank, is not the same thing as ignoring a notification that you receive in the mail. If you get something that looks suspicious via the postal service, it is a good idea to call and investigate, because there’s a good chance that it’s legitimate.

For more information on scams that are being seen frequently, check out the recent IRS publication titled the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. More importantly, remember that the examples found here and within the IRS publication are just the tip of the iceberg. Identity thieves are coming up with increasingly novel ways to take advantage of people, including filing tax returns claiming refunds under your name that you are not entitled to – this leaves you to argue with the IRS about money that you did not receive, but they believe that you owe them.

If you believe that you have been contacted by a scammer, feel free to contact our office at (801) 613-0900 for help.