Probably the most frightening call you will ever receive is one from the IRS notifying you that your records are being ‘reviewed’, and they have a few ‘clarifying’ questions to ask you about. Just the thought of such a call is enough to make the average US taxpayer quake in their shoes, especially as we draw closer to the filing deadline in April.
Unfortunately, hackers are increasingly taking advantage of this natural worry and using social engineering techniques to gain personally identifiable information (PII) from countless taxpayers. Cooper (2014) writes hackers using the threat of the IRS is “…a stroke of genius. Even if someone fully pays Uncle Sam, there’s always going to be doubt left in their minds. We’ve all been there: Did I cut one too many corners claiming deductions? Did my accountant get a bit too creative? Did I flub basic math and add wrong? Any and all of the above? And the bad guys
are still working it.”
The call hackers will make goes something like this:
Hello, this is Mr Smith calling from the Internal Revenue Service. Is this Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones, this conversation is being recorded by our office for administrative purposes. We are reviewing your recent filing documents and there seems to be a few potential errors that we are concerned with.
In most cases these errors are simple mistakes on the form that can be rectified now, but if you wish I can make an appointment for you to come into our offices; you have that option.
Uh…if this is easier…sure.
Great. First, we have your address as 2016 Main St. (information obtained via social media or Internet search) is that correct?
Could you provide me with your correct zip code? It is not listed on your documents.
Ok, and your date of birth is XX/XX/XXXX is that correct?
Yes it is.
Great. And for verification purposes, could you provide me with your Social Security number?
At that point, the hackers have gained the information they are seeking, the all-important Social Security number that can be used by for countless nefarious purposes. They are able to do this because a) people are gullible and trusting and b) people are fearful and try to cooperate with authority figures.
As we are in the height of tax season, be especially weary of telephone calls or emails from the IRS seeking information. In most cases it will be a hacker trying to get information from you. Don’t be fooled by social engineering!
Learn more about protecting yourself from cybersecurity threats here.
Cooper, C. (2014). IRS calling? Nope. It’s a scam. Retrieved from