Tax Law Special Report: September 2023
“Emails Claiming ‘Your Account Has Been Put on Hold’ Are Scams”

The above headline is quoted from a news release by the IRS last year (IR 2022-36). That news release discussed a spear phishing scam targeting tax preparers. It warned tax preparers to be on the lookout for bogus emails attempting to steal their tax preparation software credentials. The fallout from even one such theft could obviously be far-reaching, as it would expose many taxpayers to identity theft.

Hannah

Nathan Hannah, Attorney

That headline, and the warning in the IRS news release, have much broader applicability than just tax preparers, however. I have noticed that lately, I receive emails that say “Your account has been put on hold” in the subject line regularly.  And they pretend to be from all sorts of sources: everything from the IRS, to Amazon, to banks in places I have never been.

What’s more, some of those emails are disconcertingly realistic. It used to be pretty easy to spot the bogus emails, primarily because they almost always contained misspellings, grammatical errors, or other telltale signs of inauthenticity. There’s a school of thought that says such errors in bogus emails are deliberate, because the emails are aimed at people who aren’t paying enough attention to notice such errors and are therefore more likely to fall for the scam.

These new ones seem different to me, however. For one thing, they are not based on getting you to fall for a fraudulent scheme. They always either contain links or have attachments, which means one thing: click on that link or open that attachment, and your computer is toast. I’m no expert, but I have been using these electronic devices long enough to know that much.

 One trick that I have learned from several sources is to scrutinize the “from” line of the email’s header. If it’s blank, or if it’s from a domain that bears no relationship to the name of the purported sender of the email, you can be sure it’s bogus.

But some of these recent emails are so slick that even that test doesn’t work. And that brings me to my real point: The IRS, your bank, and even Amazon, are pretty careful about how they use electronic communications, maybe precisely because they don’t want their customers to get victimized by these malicious emails. I have dealt with banks a lot, and can tell you from experience that it’s extremely unlikely that you will receive unexpected, consequential communication from them in an unsolicited email.

I have said this before, and I will say it again: if someone calls you, or emails you, says they are from the IRS or your bank, and demands something from you, they are trying to rob you. Do not respond.

In the unlikely event that the IRS or your bank is trying to contact you because of a substantive issue with your account, I am confident that they will always contact you in some manner other than via email or telephone, probably by snail mail, before taking any adverse action. And they are going to give you more than one notice and opportunity to respond.

So I suggest that you do what I do: if you have any hesitation at all about the legitimacy of an email, or a phone message, delete it. My philosophy is that if the communication is legitimate and important, they will send you a letter, or call you again, or send you another email.


Nathan B. Hannah is a Shareholder in the Tucson office, and practices in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, and commercial transactions.  He is also a noted blogger, and you can find more of his articles on his private blog,

Contact Attorney Hannah:   nhannah@dmyl.com  or  520/ 322-5000


This communication is designed to bring legal developments of interest to the attention of our clients and others. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice in a particular matter. For further information on any of the subjects discussed, or for legal advice in connection with any particular matter, please contact us.

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