HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has issued a warning to business owners in the state to be on high alert about a potential scam.
Letters have been sent to some businesses by fraudsters impersonating the Department of Revenue, directing the business owner to turn over the business’ accounting records.
“This is a prime example of fraudsters impersonating a government agency as they try to convince hardworking Pennsylvanians to turn over sensitive information about their businesses,” Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said in a statement. “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.”
Hassell added that criminals can then use the information for a number of activities that could seriously harm a business’ financial standing.
Anyone with questions about the legitimacy of a notice from the department should use the contact information listed on the department’s website, revenue.pa.gov.
“This is the best way to ensure you are speaking with a legitimate staff member at the Department of Revenue,” Hassell added.
According to a spokesman, the department became aware of the scam in recent weeks, with one taxpayer from Allentown providing the department with a copy of the letter that was received in the mail.
Jeffrey Johnson, communications director for the Department of Revenue, said this specific scam is new. However, in an emailed response to questions, he explained the scam resembles many other prevalent scams that involve fraudsters impersonating a government agency.
“The criminals behind these schemes are trying to lure their victims into a false sense of security by tricking them into thinking they’re speaking with a trusted representative from a government agency,” the emailed response stated.
At this point, the department said it has heard from a small number of business owners who have received the letter, but based on prior experience, it’s certainly possible that others around the state are receiving this letter and may not have reported it to the department.
In the emailed response, the department said it was unaware of any businesses that have turned over records to the scammers.
“We are hopeful that the warning that was issued will put the public on high alert so that they can identify the scam and avoid becoming a victim,” the response stated.
This image shows a copy of a fake letter sent to a Pennsylvania business owner, from a fraudster impersonating the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. (IMAGE PROVIDED BY THE PA. DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE)
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, according to a press release. The letter also threatens taxpayers by saying penalties will be imposed on their accounts. In addition, 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 the information will allow the scammers to look through the records for sensitive information such as bank account numbers and other financial data that could be used to make unauthorized transactions, request fraudulent tax refunds and apply for loans under the name of the business, according to the release.
The counterfeit notices bear the department’s name and logo, but include suspicious and inaccurate details.
Here are a couple of things to notice about the fake letters:
• 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.” The units listed on the counterfeit notice are not real.
Tips to avoid this scam
The Department of Revenue said there are some steps to take to safeguard against this scam:
Ensure you are speaking with legitimate representatives of the department: Reach out to a department representative by using the Online Customer Service Center.Examine the notice: The counterfeit notice used vague language to cast a wide net to lure in as many victims as possible. Look for information that can be verified, blatant factual errors and other inconsistencies.Conduct research online: Use the information in a potentially counterfeit notice, such as a name, address or telephone number, to conduct a search online at the department’s website, revenue.pa.gov.