Don't bite on tax refund "phishing" line


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fishHookWhat's the worst kind of "phishing" expedition you can imagine?

I asked myself that question and came up with this answer: "the one that affects me" and the latest one I've run across certainly affects me. In fact, it affects everybody who pays taxes and who sometimes anticipate a refund.

Phishing, for those of you who may be new to the Internet, is sort of like fishing. Instead of a net or line cast into the water to see what bites, the scammer sends E-mail messages by the thousands hoping that some recipients will bite. It doesn't take many to be profitable.

Usually, it involves familiar logos and companies, like Citibank or PayPal. The web sites look very much like the real web sites of those institutions. Once Internet users enter, they are often urged to "confirm" information that was supposedly lost, misplaced or moved to make it more secure.

Most of them I've run across were easy enough to rule out because I don't have a PayPal account, and don't have an account at the many banks the scammers come up with.

However, this one got my attention. It seemed to be from the Internal Revenue Service and the opening sentence was an attention getter.

"You filed your tax return and you're expecting a refund. You have just one question and you want the answer now - Where's My Refund?"

Then it directed me to their secure web site to find out if the IRS received my return and whether a refund was processed and sent to me. Actually, it was probably a misfire, not intended to be sent this early as I'm thinking most of us just recently got our 2005 tax statements, and haven't even filed much less be getting worried about a refund. But wanting to find out a little more, I continued reading.

It really sounded authentic and certainly seemed to have my welfare in mind noting that:

"New program enhancements allow you to begin a refund trace online if you have not received your check within 28 days from the original IRS mailing date. Some of you will also be able to correct or change your mailing address within this application if your check was returned to us as undelivered by the U.S. Postal Service. "Where's My Refund?" will prompt you when these features are available for your situation."

They were also up front in telling me that to get my refund status, I would need to provide the following information as shown on my return return:

  • First and last name
  • Social Security Number (or IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
  • Credit Card Information

As to that question: Where's My Refund? By putting my cursor on this clickable site, I could see that the first words had nothing to do with an IRS site. It comes across as but when it opened, it was similar to the real IRS web site. There was a place to put in my last and first name. I added a fictitious name and hit submit. Despite the fact that I used a very common name, almost instantly it came back saying my refund was calculated at $346.74.

So I tried it again using my own name which, too, is quite common and again the speed was amazing but with the same sum of $346.74; not too large a sum that it would cause an alarm to sound in your brain, but enough to make it worthwhile for most people who think it's legitimate and think they may have a refund coming.

But, then they wanted some more information including my Social Security Number, address, E-mail address, credit card number, expiration date, and even an ATM PIN. Certainly, that's enough information for them to drain my bank account as well as run up some bills on my credit card. I passed on that one.

Sometimes in the future, if you feel like you have a refund coming and it's been quite a while since you filed your return, you really can check on your refund. Do it by going to the real IRS web site, though, and that's at . Type it in yourself so you're sure you're not being linked to another site.

Reprinted from the February 2006 edition of the Air Force Retiree News Service






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