HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania business owners are being warned against a new scam targeting them.
The scammers are impersonating the Department of Revenue by sending business owners fake letters that direct them to turn over their accounting records.
The scam's goal is to trick taxpayers into providing sensitive financial information, which those responsible for the scam can use for a number of illicit activities that could severely harm a business' financial standing.
"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,” Pennsylvania Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said.
“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 said. "If you have any doubt at all about the legitimacy of a notice from the department, please use the contact information listed at revenue.pa.gov. This is the best way to ensure you are speaking with a legitimate staff member at the Department of Revenue.”
The scam letter will read along the lines of:
Dear Business owner,
This notice is to inform you that you are under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Revenue and Cash Disbursements Unit.
This investigation involves the alleged violation of delinquent sales tax liability collected per client served and not reported to the Sales and Use Taxation reporting agency.
It appears that you have registered with the United States Internal Revenue Services, but not yet registered your Entity with Pennsylvania Department of State and The Sales and Use Tax division.
Your business engagement requires for the proper accountability, control and payment of sales tax collected to the proper agency.
We are here by requesting for you accounting records of 2019-2020 from a licensed CPA, Attorney, FDIC Banker, Accountant. All and correctly dated and prepared Profit and Loss and Balanced Sheet for each month of each year including Yearly closing Statements. (Self-prepared) reports will not be allowed. All reports must be signed dated and certified by any of the above License Professionals.
Estimated penalties will be imposed. To comply with the auditing officer, please call 1-800-992-1377 immediately.
Providing the requested 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 its “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.
If you are concerned about a potentially fraudulent notice, visit the department's Verifying contact by the Department of Revenue webpage for verified phone numbers and contact information.