International Taxpayers Beware: New Twist on Old IRS Scam

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As the number of tax-related scams increases each year, we would like to remind taxpayers to remain vigilant and keep their data secure at all times. We do our best to keep readers informed but it’s ultimately your responsibility to ensure you don’t become a victim.

The latest scam reported by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a new twist tied to an old scam aimed at international taxpayers and non-resident aliens. In this scam, criminals use a fake IRS Form W-8BEN to solicit detailed personal identification and bank account information from taxpayers.

Basically, criminals mail or fax a letter indicating that although individuals are exempt from withholding and reporting income tax, they need to authenticate their information by filling out a phony version of Form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting. Recipients are then requested to fax the information back.

The Form W-8BEN is a legitimate U.S. tax exemption document related to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, also known as FATCA. However, it can only be submitted through a withholding agent and recertification isn’t actually required. In the past, criminals have targeted non-residents of the U.S. using the form as a lure to get personal details such as passport numbers and PIN codes. The legitimate IRS Form W-8BEN doesn’t ask for any of that information. The phony letter or fax also refers to a Form W9095, which doesn’t even exist!

DOWNLOAD A SAMPLE FORM W-8BEN LETTER

Don’t Be Fooled

Be alert to bogus letters, emails and letters that appear to come from the IRS or tax professionals requesting personal information. Scam letters, forms and e-mails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes typically seek personal information including mother’s maiden name, passport and account information in order steal the victim’s identity and assets.

Note that the IRS does not: 

  • Demand people use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Also, the IRS won’t ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
  • Demand immediate tax payment. Normal correspondence is a letter in the mail and taxpayers can appeal or question what they owe. 
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to arrest people for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke a license or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into believing their schemes.

Taxpayers who feel they may have received a scam letter or call should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and to the IRS by emailing phishing@irs.gov with the subject line “IRS Impersonation Scam.”

The offices of William D. Truax, E.A., Inc. take security VERY seriously and will always do everything we can to keep your valuable information safe. If you’ve received a suspicious letter or feel you may be the victim of a tax-related crime, please contact us immediately so we can help point you in the right direction.