There could hardly be a more appropriate time to warn you about a new phishing scam targeting college students and professors than April Fools Day.  The IRS has issued a warning to college students and professors who are being targeted with a phishing email that appears to come from the IRS with a subject line that reads “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.”  The email itself carries the IRS logo which is easy to counterfeit.  In the email you are asked to click on a link in order to submit a form to claim your refund.   The form asks you for a wide variety of personal information including your name, Social Security number, date of birth and address.  If you provide that information in response to the phony IRS email, you will end up promptly becoming a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Whenever you get an email asking you to provide personal information, the first thing you should do is look at the email address of the sender.  While sometimes the email address may appear legitimate, in many instances the email addresses used to send these phishing emails are the email addresses of unfortunate people whose email accounts have been hacked and made a part of a botnet of zombie computers used by scammers to send out their phishing emails.  Obviously if the email address has nothing to do with the IRS, you can be confident the email did not come from the IRS.  However, there is another easy way to know if the email you receive purporting to be from the IRS is legitimate, which is that the IRS never initiates communications about anything with taxpayers through email, text messages or phone calls so if you do receive such a communication, you can be confident it is a scam and you should ignore it.

This is also a good time to remind you that the IRS recently expanded its Identity Protection PIN Op-In Program that provides individual taxpayers with a six-digit code that is required to be included on the individual’s income tax return.  This will protect someone whose Social Security number had been compromised from becoming a victim of identity theft because the identity thief will not know the six-digit code.

The IRS started the Identity Theft Protection PIN program almost ten years ago, but it was only available to people who were already victims of identity theft and to people living in a few specific states chosen by the IRS to test the program.  Now anyone can and should obtain an Identity Theft Protection PIN.  The PIN is only valid for a single year and must be applied for anew each year.  In order to obtain an Identity Theft Protection PIN for this year’s income tax return you should go to http://www.IRS.gov/IPPIN and use the Get an IP PIN tool.  The process will require you to verify your identity.  Victims of income tax identity theft who have filed an identity theft affidavit with the IRS automatically receive an IP PIN by regular mail from the IRS.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

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