Attorney General Tom Corbett today cautioned Pennsylvania consumers to be watchful for possible scams linked to the upcoming April 15th income tax deadline along with the ongoing U.S. Census.
"Scam artists always look for legitimate events that they can use to gain consumers' trust and lend an air of authenticity to their schemes," Corbett said. "Bogus notices, claiming to come from government agencies like the IRS or the Census Bureau, are a popular device for identity thieves who are hoping that trusting victims will respond quickly, without taking steps to confirm that the solicitation is legitimate."
Corbett said the majority of these government-related scams are aimed at getting consumers to divulge detailed personal information, including Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card numbers, or account PIN's and passwords. This information can be used or resold by identity thieves who steal money from victims' bank accounts or make unauthorized purchases using their credit cards.
Corbett noted that consumers across the state have been reporting a growing number of tax-related scams as the April 15th filing deadline quickly approaches. Consumers have also expressed concern about potential scams disguised as U.S. Census surveys.
Corbett said many tax-related email, fax and telephone scams claim to offer consumers assistance applying for refunds, tax credits or tax exemptions - tempting potential victims with substantial tax savings or added refunds if they respond quickly.
"Often, these scam messages will include authentic-looking forms or links to Internet sites that resemble actual government sites," Corbett said. "Other bogus messages may include links that can load unwanted software onto your computer, potentially compromising the security of your electronic financial information."
Corbett noted that some phony websites and messages can be easily identified because of spelling errors, poor grammar and other obvious mistakes, but he added that scam artists are growing increasingly sophisticated.
"The best way to spot a scam is to understand how legitimate agencies operate and what kind of information they will request - or more specifically, what kind of information they will NOT ask consumers to divulge."
Corbett said that according to the official Internal Revenue Service website, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. Also, the IRS does not request financial account security information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers.
Consumers with questions or concerns about a possible IRS scam should visit the official website, at www.irs.gov, for more information. Suspicious emails and website addresses can be forwarded directly to the IRS for investigation, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corbett added that according to the official U.S. Census Bureau website, the 2010 Census is not being conducted via the Internet and the Census Bureau does not send emails about participating in the 2010 Census.
Additionally, Corbett said the Census Bureau notes that consumers will never be asked to divulge their full social security number, PIN codes, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.
Corbett added that Census Bureau employees who are conducting door-to-door surveys will always be able to provide the following information:
*Their Census Bureau identification badge.
* The name of the survey for which your participation is needed.
* A copy of the notification letter that you received or should have received, in the mail describing the survey.
Consumers with questions or concerns about possible census scams should contact the closest regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau, at http://www.census.gov/regions/.
Corbett said that any consumer who suspects they have accidentally divulged personal information in response to a scam should immediately contact their bank or credit card company to stop any unauthorized withdrawals or charges to their accounts.
Additionally, Corbett recommended that consumers review information included in the "Identity Theft Toolkit" section of the Attorney General website - including tips for preventing ID Theft along with instructions for responding to the theft or loss of personal information.
Consumers with questions or concerns about telephone and electronic message scams, or other consumer problems, can contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection toll-free hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint.