It’s bad news any time you get an audit notice from the Internal Revenue Service. But it could be even worse if you’re notified by e-mail—because that e-mail is a fraud.
The perpetrators of these messages want to trick you into revealing your financial information by alerting you that you’re about to be audited. Unlike most phishing scams that send out hundreds of thousands of e-mails aimed at wangling personal information from potential victims, this ruse is personalized to get your attention: The message may address you by name.
“The name in the text of the message lends it more legitimacy,” says IRS spokesperson Michelle Lamishaw. “This is something we normally haven’t seen in other e-mail scams.” And that has the IRS concerned because people tend to get nervous about IRS audits, prompting recipients to follow directions in the e-mail and leading to identity theft.
The e-mail tells you to click on a link to complete forms needed for the audit. The forms ask for personal information, such as your Social Security number, and financial data such as bank account numbers. Even if you don’t fill out the forms, merely clicking on the link can download a malicious code on a computer, giving crooks access to important private information.
“The IRS does not send e-mails to taxpayers notifying them of audits,” Lamishaw says.
If you get such an e-mail, forward the complete message to firstname.lastname@example.org so the agency can investigate. The IRS doesn’t send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers.