Scammers trying to defraud Pennsylvania businesses of sensitive financial information are sending fake letters that look like they’re from the state Department of Revenue.
The initial report of the scam came from the Allentown area, but department officials are concerned it may be a statewide effort, according to Jeffrey A. Johnson, director of communications for the department, in an email exchange with LNP | Lancaster Online.
The goal is to trick the recipient of the letter into believing they are being investigated by the Department of Revenue for an “alleged violation of sales tax delinquencies,” according to a news release from the department. The letter also threatens financial sanctions. The letter also includes contact information for a “Restructuring Officer” and urges the business owner to provide accounting records.
Providing this information allows access to sensitive information such as bank account numbers and other financial data that can be used to make unauthorized transactions, claim fraudulent tax refunds and even apply for loans.
Although the letter has the department’s name and logo, it also contains questionable and inaccurate details.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
— The letter does not include a return address. A notice from the Department of Revenue will always include an official department return address.
— The letter addresses the recipient as “Dear Business Owner.” When the department attempts to contact a business through a notice in the mail, the notice usually contains the name of the owner or business.
— The letter was sent by the “Pennsylvania Income Tax Investigation and Enforcement Unit” and claimed the business was “under investigation by the Pennsylvania Division of Revenue and Disbursement.” Although the department conducts criminal tax investigations and enforcement actions, the units listed in the letter are bogus.
— The letter claims the business is not registered as an “entity with the Pennsylvania Department of State and Division of Sales and Use Taxes.” Established Pennsylvania businesses are likely already registered with the Department of State and have registered for a sales tax license by completing the Department of Revenue’s Business Entity Registration (PA-100) online.
Tips to protect yourself from this scam:
— Make sure you’re talking to legitimate department representatives: This scam uses the name and logo of the Department of Revenue to pretend to be a government organization. If you have any doubt at all about the legitimacy of a Department notice, you should contact a Department representative using the online Customer Service Center at revenue-pa.custhelp.com. This allows you to submit a question through a secure process that is very similar to sending an email.
“Look at the letter.”: The fake letter uses vague language to cast a wide net to attract as many victims as possible. Examine it for identifying information that can be verified. Look for obvious factual errors and other inconsistencies. If the notification is unexpected and requires immediate action, take a moment to verify its legitimacy.
— Conduct surveys online: Use the information in the letter, such as name, address, or phone number, to perform an online search. The department’s website, earned.pa.gov, is the best source for verifying the information. If you are concerned about a potentially fraudulent notification, please visit the Department of Revenue’s Contact Confirmation webpage at revenue.pa.gov for legitimate phone numbers and contact information.