Scam artists are impersonating the Department of Revenue by sending Pennsylvania business owners fraudulent letters in the mail that direct them to turn over their accounting records.
The goal of this ploy is to trick unsuspecting taxpayers into providing sensitive financial information, which the criminals behind the scheme can use for a number of illicit activities that could seriously harm a business' financial standing.
"We are urging Pennsylvania business owners to be on high alert if they receive a suspicious notice that includes the Department of Revenue name and logo,” Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said in a recent news release.
Understanding the Scam
The goal of this scam is to make the recipient of the letter believe they are being investigated by the Department of Revenue for an “alleged violation of delinquent sales tax liability.” The letter also threatens taxpayers by saying penalties will be imposed on their accounts. Further, the letter includes contact information for a “Resolution Officer” and urges the business owner to provide accounting records prepared by a licensed professional, such as an attorney or CPA.
Providing this information allows the scammers to comb through the accounting records for sensitive information such as bank account numbers and other financial data, which could be used to make unauthorized transactions, request fraudulent tax refunds, and even apply for loans under the name of the business.
Although these counterfeit notices bear the department's name and logo, the notices include suspicious and inaccurate details that can help differentiate between a counterfeit notice sent by a scam artist and a legitimate notice sent by the Department of Revenue. Be on the lookout for notices that make dubious claims or include suspicious details. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- The counterfeit notice does not include a return address. A notice from the Department of Revenue will always include an official Department of Revenue address as the return address.
- The counterfeit notice addresses the recipient as "Dear Business Owner." When the Department of Revenue attempts to contact a business through a notice in the mail, the notice typically addresses the business owner or business name.
- The counterfeit notice is sent by the "Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Tax Investigation & Enforcement Unit" and claims the business is "under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Revenue and Cash Disbursement Unit." While the department does conduct criminal tax investigations and tax enforcement, the units listed on the counterfeit notice are phony. Reach out to the department directly, as advised below, to determine if the "Unit" named exists.
- The counterfeit notice claims that the business has not registered their "entity with the Pennsylvania Department of State and The Sales and Use Tax Division." If you are an established business in Pennsylvania, it is likely that you already registered your business with the Pennsylvania Department of State and have registered for a sales tax license by completing the Department of Revenue's PA Online Business Entity Registration (PA-100).
The Department of Revenue is encouraging Pennsylvanians to keep the following tips in mind to safeguard against this scam:
- Ensure You Are Speaking With Legitimate Representatives of the Department: This scam uses the Department of Revenue's name and logo to pose as a government entity. If you have any doubt at all about the legitimacy of a notice from the department, you should reach out to a department representative by using the Online Customer Service Center. This allows the taxpayer to securely submit a question through a process that is very similar to sending an email.
- Examine the Notice: This counterfeit notice used vague language to cast a wide net to lure in as many victims as possible. Examine the notice for identifying information that can be verified. Look for blatant factual errors and other inconsistencies. If the notice is unexpected and demands immediate action, take a moment, and verify its legitimacy.
- Conduct Research Online: Use the information in a potentially counterfeit notice, such as a name, address or telephone number, to conduct a search online. The Department of Revenue's website, revenue.pa.gov, is the best source to verify information contained in a legitimate notice from the department.
Steps To Follow if You Have a Question
If you are concerned about a potentially fraudulent notice, please visit the department's Verifying contact by the Department of Revenue webpage for verified phone numbers and contact information. This will help you ensure that you are speaking with a legitimate representative of the department.