Form W-8BEN Scam Targets Non-Residents

Scam artists have dusted off an old scheme and added a new kink in an effort to swindle taxpayers out of money. This new effort uses a faked version of the IRS Form W-8BEN to get detailed personal identification and bank account information from its victims.

Here’s How It Works:

The scammers mail or fax a letter stating that although the taxpayers are exempt from withholding and reporting income tax, they need to “authenticate” their information by filling out a bogus version of Form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting. Recipients are then instructed to fax the information back.

The IRS says Form W-8BEN is indeed a legitimate U.S. tax exemption document. But there’s a catch: That form can only be submitted through a withholding agent.

The IRS website defines withholding agent this way:

“You are a withholding agent if you are a U.S. or foreign person that has control, receipt, custody, disposal, or payment of any item of income of a foreign person that is subject to withholding. 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. You may be a withholding agent even if there is no requirement to withhold from a payment or even if another person has withheld the required amount from the payment.”

The IRS goes on to say that withholding agents are personally responsible for all tax, penalties and interest incurred by their taxpayers, which may explain why the scammers don’t impersonate a withholding agent. They opt instead to have bogus payments and information funneled directly to them.

As we mentioned, Form W-8BEN is a real IRS form. And scammers have used that form to lure non-residents of the U.S. to give up personal details, such as passport numbers and PIN codes. The real version of the Form W-8BEN doesn’t ask for any of that information.

The scammers’ initial letter also refers to Form W9095, which does not exist. Another red flag: The IRS doesn’t require taxpayers to recertify their foreign status.

Phishing is a Scam. Period.

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 the taxpayer’s mother’s maiden name, passport and account information in order steal the victim’s identity and their assets.

What Won’t the IRS Do?

  • Demand that people use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS will not ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone. For people who owe taxes, make payments to the United States Treasury or review IRS.gov/payments for IRS online options.
  • Demand immediate tax payment. Normal correspondence is a letter in the mail and taxpayers can appeal or question what they owe. All taxpayers are advised to know their rights as a taxpayer.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to arrest people for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke a license or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into believing their schemes.

Tax professionals and taxpayers who receive ANY IRS impersonation scam, whether written or by telephone, should report it immediately to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page. Also report it to the IRS by emailing phishing@irs.gov; use the subject line “IRS Impersonation Scam.”