Use Caution When Reporting Identity Theft Online

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identity theft email scams

Identity thieves are as clever as they are despicable. One of the newest methods that thieves use to steal a victim's identity involves an email that looks very much like an official email from the Internal Revenue Service. The email tells recipients that they're victims of identity theft and should follow a link to submit an identity theft report. The official-looking email urges the unsuspecting victim to complete the "report" with detailed personal information. When the victim submits the information, it doesn't go to the IRS; it goes into the database of criminals who use it to commit identity theft.

For an enterprising thief with decent coding skills, stealing the logos of the IRS and other government agencies and using them to build a website to steal identities is easy. If the email, website, and correspondence have the look and feel of the real IRS site, unsuspecting victims who think someone has stolen their identities might overlook small flaws that would tip off a more skeptical person to the scam.

Using official-looking emails to scare or dupe people into providing their personal information is a type of scam called phishing. Just as an angler baits a hook and drops it in the water hoping for a bite, the thief baits a virtual hook — an email that either scares or offers to help a victim. The thief hopes the victim will "bite."

Sadly, this is just one of many IRS-related scams that thieves are using to rope in gullible victims. The ruse is proving so effective that criminals have hatched many different types of scams using the IRS logo, official color schemes and layouts, and other deceptions.

The IRS has posted a page on its website with a long list of known IRS scams to raise awareness. If victims receive one of these phishing emails, the IRS requests that they forward the message to an IRS mailbox set up specifically to address these crimes. Anyone receiving one of these emails should forward it to phishing@irs.gov, and he or she should avoid clicking on any of the links in the message.

When an official-looking identity theft report supposedly from the IRS turns out to be another identity theft scam, it illustrates the scope of the problem and the devious methods that thieves will use to steal. Information and a healthy dose of skepticism are a person's best weapons against identity theft. Another helpful weapon is an identity monitoring service that provides members with an arsenal of weapons that they can use when they need them the most, such as alerts, ID theft insurance, document recovery, and more.

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