Yesterday I received a suspicious email by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). Could well have been that the IRS contacted me. I had published an article earlier this year and cashed a check for this recently. But would they contact me by email? Where did they get my email address? “… to protect your exemption from tax on your account and other financial benefit in rectifying your exemption status” I read in the email, and: “Therefore, you are to authenticate the following by completing W-8BEN FORM, and return to us as soon as possible via fax number enclosed on W-8BEN FORM.” So there is an appeal to my greed and an instigation to fill out the form quickly, which means without thinking about it. I opened the attached form, which is a hazard, but as it’s a PDF, I thought I could take the risk. The fake W-8BEN was titled: „Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding”, it omitted: “and Reporting (Individuals)“. That did it! I was in alert mode. The form looked official, but had a fax number at the bottom! The form asked for my mother’s maiden name, no actually one wanted to know my mother’s median name – actually she doesn’t have so many names that I could run a statistical analysis on her names. And I should send a copy of my international passport. Dear me, are people so starry-eyed?
I opened the page of the IRS: www.irs.gov, which was actually mentioned in the email. You can find information on phishing, but you have to look for it – and it’s worth the time. The phishers rely on that you don’t take this time. Under “Fake Form W-8BEN Used in IRS Tax Scams” you find: “However, fraudsters typically target non-residents of the U.S. and use the W-8BEN format to acquire personal details such as,
mother's maiden name,
- passport number,
- date of birth,
- PIN numbers and passcodes.
The legitimate IRS Form W-8BEN, does not ask for any of that information.”
Good to know.
My advice? Before filling out any form and faxing it somewhere into the world, boot up you brain!