Hackers readily “phish” into the tax season

By Patricia J. Sheehan
April 6, 2006

Identity theft is something that we are all aware and ever-cautious about in this technology-consumed age. It can happen to anyone at anytime but many do not realize that tax season is the most popular time of year for hackers to tap into very personal information.

“Phishing,” a term used to describe the act of luring unsuspecting internet users to give hackers vital information, has increased over the winter and early spring months, according to The Associated Press. The IRS and Treasury Department stated that phishers use their official logo in e-mails order to fool people into handing over social security numbers and banking informaion.

Junior accounting major and finance minor Carolyn Steck, says that she doesn’t know anyone who has experienced this identity fraud personally, but said that people need to be very aware of exactly what information they are giving out and to who.

“People can become a victim of identity theft just by giving out their social security number and name. By giving out any other information besides name and social security makes the situation worse for you. The person taking your identity could clone your entire life and hurt you emotionally and finically,” she said.

The IRS has also found 12 websites offering Phishing scams, in others words, teaching fellow hackers exactly how to steal other’s identities. These sites don’t limit to posing themselves as the IRS but as banks and government officials as well. With many Americans scrambling to get their taxes in order, they often answer these security questions supposedly from the IRS and their banks promptly without worrying about authenticity. They ignore these concerns that they may normally act on.

“I don’t think the IRS would ever send out one of these e-mails because of high risk for someone to hack in and take the information. If the IRS needed information from you they would probably send something through the mail, especially for documentation purposes,” Steck said.

In an article from The Associated Press, Mr. Richard Morgante, commissioner of the IRS wage and investment, shed some inside light on these identity frauds.

“The communication and Web sites might look like the real thing, but they’re not. The IRS does not communicate with taxpayers via e-mail, nor does the IRS ask people for passwords, personal identification numbers or other secret information about financial accounts,” he said.

Alice Lew, a senior tax advisor of H & R Block in King of Prussia, Pa., said she hasn’t has any complaints from clients about these notices but has received e-mails herself asking for credit card and banking information.

“If you do get an e-mail or notice like this you should definitely report it to the IRS, that way they can investigate it and try a put a stop to these hackers,” she said.

Someone who does receive this kind of spam e-mail can report it to a higher service called the Anti-Phishing Working group (http://www.antiphishing.org/). This organization is working hard to crack down on these thieves who are cashing out on innocent people’s lives. APW is also working on wiping out other kinds of identity theft scams being dealt over the internet.

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: Loquitur@yahoogroups.com . The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warranted.
Posted to the web by Tim Hague

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Patricia J. Sheehan

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