There’s a cyclical nature to the subject of phishing e-mails. Phishing is when someone sends you an e-mail in an attempt to send you to a fake site and get you to divulge secret personal information. Most of these are about online banking, PayPal, or Ebay. They’ll typically say something like, “There has been unauthorized access of your account.” Then you click a link that sends you to a dangerous server where a form asks you for the username and password for one of your money-related accounts. Instead of logging into the real thing, you’ve now given your username and password to an attacker. Phishing is big business — the FCC estimates that it’s over $100 million in North America alone. That’s big bucks!
Usually, the actual phisher sells your username and password to someone who then rips you off — it’s like selling stolen credit card numbers.
I could go on and on about phishing and discuss different methods and the economics of it, but I wanted to call your attention to a string of IRS- and tax-related phish that are flying around. These are e-mail ads for tax preparation firms that may contain phony links. Hey, if you’re going to pay your taxes, then you might as well pay them to our government, not to these other crooks!
The advice I’m giving is: Don’t click on any link in an e-mail that’s an ad for a tax preparer or a chance to “pay your taxes now.” IRS policy states that they never send e-mails regarding their taxes.
You should always check the link you click on to make sure that it is legitimate. There’s a difference between IRS.gov and IRS.gov.cn. Also make sure that the address in your Web browser is the one that corresponds to the site you think you’re being sent to. For example, a legitimate government site would be http://www.irs.gov and not http://111.irs.xyz.com or something other variation.
Likewise, don’t respond to the e-mails asking for personal tax-related information or offering to help you with your taxes.
You can find more information about authorized tax preparers on http://www.irs.gov.
My final advice is that you should treat each e-mail from a stranger with some skepticism, the same way you would treat a phone call or a knock on the door from a stranger with skepticism. That goes for taxes, banking, the Britney Spears video that you have to see, and, of course, the omnipresent ads to increase something.