An e-mail purporting to be from the IRS is actually an attempt by scammers to gain access to the recipient's financial information, Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel says.
"It's happening right here in Huntington County," Stoffel warns.
He says he's received phone calls from residents who provided some of the requested information but became concerned as the requests for information became more specific.
Anyone who receives the email should not provide any information, he says. If they answer even some of the questions, he adds, they should take immediate steps to protect themselves.
The e-mail claims to be from the IRS, informing the recipient that he or she is eligible for a refund.
"At this time of the year, people think it's legitimate," Stoffel says.
But, he says, he's contacted IRS officials, who say the agency does not communicate with taxpayers by e-mail.
"They do not send those kinds of requests," Stoffel says.
An IRS representative may contact a taxpayer by phone, he says, and will follow up with print letter by mail.
The e-mail asks the recipient to provide his or her Social Security number, date of birth and phone number and to set up security questions. The scammer hopes that the recipient will use the same questions connected to his or her bank account, giving the scammers the information needed to hack into that account.
As the questions continue, the recipient is asked to provide routing and account numbers for checking and savings accounts, credit card accounts and other financial accounts.
"If you are compromised, if you have inadvertently done this, you need to notify banks, credit card companies, let them know immediately what's happened," Stoffel says.
Even if the recipient supplies only a Social Security number and date of birth, that's enough for a scammer to take out loans or open credit cards in the victim's name - with the victim getting the bills.
Stoffel says anyone who has responded to the e-mail should contact the three major credit bureaus in the United States, explain what has happened and ask the credit bureau to place an alert on the account.
Contacts for those credit bureaus are:
• Equifax, 1-800-525-6285.
• TransUnion, 1-800-860-7289.
• Experian, 1-800-311-4769.
Victims should also notify the Social Security office, 1-800-772-1213, Stoffel says. The scammers can use the information to submit fraudulent Social Security claims, he says.
"That's what you can do to protect yourself if you've been compromised," he says.