There is yet another new twist on an old scam – this time affecting non-resident aliens and international taxpayers. Criminals are using a fake IRS Form W-8BEN to solicit detailed personal identification and bank account information from victims.
Here’s how the scam works:
- Criminals mail or fax a letter indicating that although individuals are exempt from withholding and reporting income tax, they still need to authenticate their information by filling out a phony version of Form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting.
- Recipients are then asked to fax the information back to the scammers.
- While Form W-8BEN is a legitimate U.S. tax exemption document, it can only be submitted through a withholding agent. A withholding agent may be an individual, corporation, partnership, trust, association, or any other entity, including any foreign intermediary, foreign partnership, or U.S. branch of certain foreign banks and insurance companies.
- In the past, fraudsters have targeted non-residents of the U.S. using Form W-8BEN as a lure to get personal details such as passport numbers and PIN codes. IRS Form W-8BEN does not ask for any of that information. The phony letter or fax also refers to a Form W9095, which does not exist. Furthermore, the IRS doesn’t require re-certification of foreign status.
Non-resident alien and international taxpayers should be alert to bogus letters, emails, and letters that appear to come from the IRS or your tax professional requesting information. Scam letters, forms, and e-mails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes may seek personal information, including mother’s maiden name, passport, and account information in order steal the victim’s identity and their assets.
Remember, the IRS does not:
- Demand that people use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
- Ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
- Demand immediate tax payment. Normal correspondence is a letter in the mail and taxpayers can appeal or question what they owe.
- Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to arrest people for not paying.
- Revoke a license or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into believing their schemes.
If you have received an IRS phone scam or any IRS impersonation scam, please contact your international tax professional. You should also report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at its IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting site and to the IRS by emailing with the subject line “IRS Impersonation Scam“.