Computer Crime Research Center


Beware of phishing, useful hints

Date: August 11, 2006

Someone claiming to be the Internal Revenue Service e-mailed Lynn VanVerth about her $63.80 tax refund - all they needed was a credit card number to secure the transaction.

The genuine IRS, which is actively investigating several similar attempts at fraud, is warning people to be on the lookout for Internet scam artists pretending to represent the federal government.

Though the notification had every semblance of appearing legitimate - including copyright information at the bottom of the linked Web page - Mrs. VanVerth, an accountant for her husband's Computer Troubleshooters franchise in Arnold, wasn't fooled by the latest incarnation of the Internet phishing scam. Phishers, who take their name from hackers' tendency to replace f with ph when typing and not the band, are Internet scam artists looking to trick the unsuspecting into revealing personal information such as Social Security and credit card numbers.

"I know it's fake," Mrs. VanVerth said. "The IRS would never do something like that."

Now phishers are aping government Web sites, such as the IRS, in their latest ploy to fleece the unsuspecting.

Phishers have commonly tried to pass themselves off as banks or sites such as eBay, PayPal or Amazon to swindle personal information. But a recent spate of phishing attempts have been trying to pass themselves off as official government communication.

"People see something (purporting to be) coming from a government agency is more serious and needs more attention," said Jim Dupree, a spokesman for the IRS in Baltimore.

The IRS has investigated 12 phishing scams from 11 countries since November, and Mrs. VanVerth found her suspicious e-mail listed among them. Last month the IRS received examples of nearly 1,300 bogus e-mails from concerned taxpayers.

The Anti-Phishing Work Group, a division of the National Center for Forensic Science at the University of Central Florida, received 20,109 reports of phishing in May, up 15 percent from the previous month and 34 percent more than was reported in January.

The IRS has its own investigative division and will pursue international phishers, said Peggy Thomas, a spokeswoman for the IRS' criminal division.

"If there's a foreign individual that's committing fraud in the U.S. we will work to have them extradited," she said.

The IRS warns customers it does not solicit personal information via the Internet and all such request should be treated with suspicion.

"We aren't just going to send out e-mails blindly seeking personal information..." Mr. Dupree said. "If we need to get in contact with you, you're going to get written correspondence first and then maybe a phone call."

Helpful hints

State Attorney General Joseph Curran and the IRS are warning the public about a new phishing scam in which con artists send bogus IRS e-mails from [email protected] or [email protected] and sometimes link to a Web site that mimics the IRS.

Be suspicious of e-mails that:

• Urge you to act quickly because your account may be suspended or closed.

• Don’t address you by name, but uses a more generic title, like “Dear Taxpayer.”• Ask for account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords or other personal information.

If you receive these type of e-mails:

• Do not open any attachments.

• Do not click on any links.

• Delete them immediately.

Suspicious e-mails can be reported to the Attorney General’s Office at 888-743-0023 or to the federal Treasurer Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484 or e-mail [email protected].

For more information on identity theft, visit

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