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ID Thieves Using Fake IRS Forms to Get Data

Letters that mimic government documents ask for Social Security numbers, passwords and personal information.

October 14, 2002|Eileen Alt Powell | Associated Press

It seems that almost every month there's a report of yet another identity theft scam. The latest is particularly worrisome because it plays off Internal Revenue Service forms, something the agency says hasn't happened before.

The California Society of Enrolled Agents, an association of tax experts licensed by the Treasury, and other groups have been trying to warn the public.

"Criminals have become more brazen because they've learned that they can profit from identity theft," said Bill Geideman, an enrolled agent in Santa Ana. "And they're much harder to trace than thieves who walk into a 7-Eleven with a handgun."

The scam involves a cover letter from a "bank" and a doctored IRS form.

One of the phony forms is numbered W-9095 and titled "Application Form for Certificate Status/Ownership for Withholding Tax." It mimics the genuine IRS Form W-9, Re- quest for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification.

In addition to seeking the consumer's name, address and Social Security number, the sham form asks for detailed financial information -- including bank account numbers, passwords and personal identification numbers -- as well as personal details such as mother's maiden name.

The letter says the form must be faxed to a certain number within seven days, or the "bank" will begin holding 31% of the account's interest for taxes.

A related scam that targets foreigners with accounts in the United States features a doctored version of IRS Form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding.

A totally fictitious IRS form, W-8888, also is in circulation, the IRS said.

The IRS says it has no figures on how many people have been caught up in the latest scam, but the agency has received complaints from around the country and abroad.

Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States, with more than 700,000 people victimized each year, the government estimates.

With the right stolen information -- Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and PINs -- the thieves can devastate victims financially. They can empty savings accounts, open new credit card accounts and run up massive bills, even buy houses and cars under their assumed identities. Victims can spend years unraveling the mess and correcting the damage to their credit reports.

IRS spokeswoman Peggy Riley said people should be wary of anyone soliciting personal information.

"The IRS would not normally send out these forms, and the IRS would not ask for sensitive financial data," she said.

She said that anyone receiving such solicitations should not respond to them. Instead, she said, contact the IRS at (800) 829-1040.

People who fear they may have been duped by such forms should contact the agency, Riley said. In addition, because they are potential identity theft targets, they could file a report with the local police, contact their bank and notify the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Other identity theft hotlines are run by the Social Security Administration, (800) 269-0271, and the Federal Trade Commission, (877) ID-THEFT.

Geideman, the enrolled agent, said legitimate forms generally have an IRS processing center address on them and the agency's phone number.

"Beyond that, the IRS would never ask you for things like your bank passwords or insist that you fax things in," Geideman said. "If someone sees that, it should be a red flag."

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