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Beware email supposedly from IRS, special agent says

Beware email supposedly from IRS, special agent says
Posted at 9:43 PM, Feb 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-18 08:57:41-05

Many tax scammers are pros at getting people to divulge just enough information about themselves that their identities can be stolen.

If scammers can't get that information from you, they may try to pry it from your computer.

Vaughn Silcox received an email, supposedly from the IRS, telling him he was eligible for an additional tax refund. It came at the right moment, he said.

"We just filed our taxes and I thought, OK maybe this is something new," he explained.

When Silcox clicked on the link in the very official-looking email, he quickly learned it was not something new. It looked like it could do a lot of damage.

"It took me to a gambling website and downloaded a program onto my computer," he said. "There was no way I could stop it. It wouldn't let me stop, so I just shut the computer off."

Phishing websites have plagued the IRS for years.

Virginia DeCamp, an IRS criminal investigation special agent said, "A lot of them are very savvy in the way they design their phishing website."

When a taxpayer replies to one of those fakes emails or fills out forms on a bogus website, the scammer could have enough info to steal the person's identity. Some tax phishers are not as motivated by stealing your money as they are by unleashing viruses.

"We've seen people's computers — they don't even know their computer is being used by scammers, like a botnet," DeCamp said.

DeCamp warns people to watch out for these bogus emails and websites. The IRS never sends emails, texts or tweets about a bill or refund out of the blue.

Silcox said it's a lesson learned for him.

"It came from a strange email address. It didn't come from IRS.gov. I should have picked up on that right away," he said.

The best guard against phishing emails and websites is to know the IRS never contacts taxpayers through emails. The second best is to keep your computer's antivirus software updated. The same goes for your smartphone, as those can be infected with malware as well.