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September 29, 2023

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IRS scam lures people into identity theft trap

When journalism professor Melissa Spirek received an e-mail from the IRS, she knew something wasn’t right.

“The IRS usually uses postal, not e-mail,” Spirek said.

After opening the e-mail, Spirek checked the IRS Web site and discovered the e-mail sent to her was a scam.

The most recent e-mail scam, described on the IRS Web site, claims the IRS has “calculated its fiscal activity” and had concluded the taxpayer is entitled to a refund, usually amounting to $63.80. The taxpayer is then directed to a site titled “Get Your Tax Refund,” which mirrors the “Where’s my Refund?” page of the real IRS Web site.

The false Web site asks taxpayers to enter their Social Security information, filing status, and, unlike the real IRS page, credit card or bank account number. The real IRS page asks for the exact amount of the refund instead of credit card information.

“The IRS does not send e-mails to taxpayers to advise them of refunds or to request financial information,” the IRS site said.

University computer science professor Ron Lancaster said phishing scams are more prevalent now because of an increased amount of user-friendly software.

“Phishing” is a broad term for when Internet frauds and scammers trick victims into revealing personal information, such as Social Security and credit card numbers.

“I think there are more players in this game,” Lancaster said. “I think the tools are there to enable people if they want to go to the trouble to [create a scam].”

Lancaster pointed out every graphic on a given Web page is downloadable, making it simple to make a Web page or e-mail look legitimate. HTML creates opportunities to disguise links in e-mails, leading the user to the scammer’s site, as opposed to the listed, legitimate site.

“You can do whatever you want with it,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster has had experience with other e-mail scams from people claiming to be from banks, Web sites (, for example) and credit card companies.

“In my situation, I just delete them. Most banks recommend you [forward] them,” Lancaster said.

Any suspicious e-mails claiming to be from the IRS can be forwarded to [email protected] or addressed by calling 1-800-366-4484. The IRS uses the information from the e-mail to find and shut down fraudulent sites.

Since this system was put into place last year, more than 30,000 e-mails have come in, uncovering about 400 phishing scams, the IRS Web site said. Sites have been traced to 55 different countries, including the United States.

For complete information on reported scams, taxpayers can visit,,id=155682,00.html.

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