(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
American citizens who receive an e-mail message from "Laura Stevens" of US "Internal Revenue Service public relations" asking them to fill out a document with personal information and fax it back should ignore it. The phony message is part of a scam to steal people's identity.
The message has been sent to hundreds of thousands of people around the world from the official-looking e-mail address email@example.com. The IRS's official Web site is www.irs.gov, but it never sends e-mail messages with forms asking to be filled out, according to the IRS itself.
After this reporter received four such e-mail messages - despite having never having shared her e-mail address with the IRS - one Google search of "Laura Stevens IRS" produced over 1,100 mentions that warn of a scam.
The message begins: "Our records indicate that you are a non-resident alien. As a result, you are exempted from United States of America Tax reporting and withholdings, on interest paid you on your account and other financial dealing to protect your exemption from tax on your account and other financial benefit in rectifying your exemption status. Therefore, you are to authenticate the following by completing form W-4100B2, and return to us as soon as possible through the fax number +1-646-519-7245."
The truth is that while the fax number exists, the US tax authorities did not send this "IRS Request for Recertification of Foreign Status" and there is no such official form.
"The form requests biographical information typically used for identity theft," the real IRS in New York states on an Internet warning.
The fake form asks for one's name, date and place of birth, nationality, country of permanent residence, passport number, the name of one's spouse and mother, permanent address, Social Security number, bank name and account number, and how often one comes to the US. A photocopy of your passport is also requested.
"Please complete Form W-4100B2 attached and return to us within 1 (one) week from the receipt of this letter by faxing it to enable us update your records immediately. If your account or any other financial benefits are not rectified in a timely manner, it will be subject to USA tax reporting and back-up withholding (if back up withholding applies, we are required to withhold 30% of the interest paid to you)."
Web sites carrying genuine information from the IRS explain that the message from "Laura Stevens" is a mass e-mail phishing scam that appears to target emigrants.
"The attached form W-4100B2 does not exist but is similar to the IRS's W8-BEN form, which is sent to financial institutions, not the IRS, by nonresident aliens with income subject to US income tax. The financial institutions act as a non-resident alien's withholding agent. Remember, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails about taxes. Any unsolicited e-mails claiming to be from the IRS are scams. Don't access any links or attachments," the IRS site says.
If you receive an e-mail or find a Web site you think is pretending to be the IRS, forward the e-mail or Web site URL to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.