Consumer Alert: That text message is not from the IRS! Why the agency is sounding the alarm
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The IRS wants you to keep your money. That’s because thousands of IRS impersonators are trying to steal it. And the agency has issued a warning of a dramatic increase in smishing attacks done by thieves impersonating as the IRS. According to FTC data, the number of smishing government impersonators has increased threefold in less than a year. Smishing combines the letters SMS (Short Message Service) and phishing. It’s the act of trying to steal your personal information by text message. And it doesn’t get much more serious than the warning from IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.
He said in just the last few months, the IRS has identified multiple large scale operations that can deliver hundreds of thousands of fake IRS emails in just hours. He called it phishing on quote “an industrial scale.”
And they’ve gotten clever, sending scam text messages by the thousands. In May, the FTC cracked down on robocalls, forcing cell phone providers to give you the tools to block them. So now for thieves, the fake text message is their modus operandi of choice. And the IRS is so concerned, the agency released a video to explain smishing.
But there are clear signs of a smishing attack. Here are the four red flags:
- Spelling and grammar mistakes. One common text scam reads, “IRS is filing [sic] lawsuit against you [sic] for more information [sic] call this number on urgent basis.” Notice the “a” is missing as are the periods. No professional would send a text as a long run-on sentence.
- A sense of urgency. Some common IRS impersonation scams warn of a warrant and pending arrest if you don’t call immediately.
- The promise of money. Many of these scam IRS messages are tied to the promise of another stimulus payment. Some may even address you by name.
- The text includes a number to call or a link to click. That link will either unleash malware on your device or take you to sites that look like the IRS, but instead are designed to steal your personal information.
I found one fake site that asked victims for a host of information including their social security number, name, birthday, email and employer. But the first thing I noticed were spelling and grammar mistakes in bold print. It reads, “Important for every tax payers [sic] to avoid being over charged… [sic]” The word, “taxpayers” should not have been plural, and it’s one word, as is overcharged.
I found three more examples of web pages that looked like the real IRS, but the URL was “resolve-irs.com.” Government agencies always have a .gov address. So check the URL before ever sharing your private information. If you receive any of these fake IRS text messages, the IRS wants to hear from you. You can email the agency at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s important to note, the IRS will never contact you by text message or by phone. That big government behemoth prefers snail mail. But all the red flags I’ve written about here apply to other text message scams. According to Taltech, the most frequently used text message scam right now is the fake message saying you have a package and to click on the link. Don’t do it. Contact the company directly. Click here for more information about text message scams from the Federal Trade commission.