With tax time approaching, spammers, scammers and phishermen are kicking it up a notch – with kid leather toecaps. Not only are their fake phishing sites getting slicker and sexier, they’ve even got customer service departments to respond to your cries for help.
Recently I looked up from wherever I had my head buried to note the looming tax return D-Day. Despite attempting each year to do my own taxes, I’ve caved to H&R Block, running to sit beside one of their certified caftan wearing grandmothers or MG restoration experts, leaving relieved that someone with a certificate ok’d my number crunching. This year I thought, if millions of others can do it themselves, why not save $300 and do likewise?
Of course, the task sank immediately to the bottom of the to-do tray.
No problem, just file an extension, right? Except that I’m on the road Downunder.
Well, surely I can do the modern thing and file this unremarkable form online?
Googling about suggests no – that one needs to print it out and mail it in. Wait, the IRS says yes … via some “partner” sites. I find it a little disturbing that more and more sites, including the IRS, are directing you away to someone else’s cyber-backyard – feels a bit like pulling away in a rubber dinghy from the mother ship with the mist gathering …
I thus landed up on (what I thought) was the Intuit TurboTax site
which seemed to offer what I was looking for – “TurboTax Extension Express” – a facility to file this form electronically, for a nominal charge.
Clicking on the rather quietly placed link leads you to a promising page:
and from there, to a page with a strange, lonely box, asking for your login and user id.
Like a bit of a fool I soldiered on, not thinking for a moment that perhaps, being Downunder, someone might have gotten in between me and the real Intuit.
I filled out the form.
It asked me for my social security number, which I duly supplied. All right, put a lid on it, I can hear you groaning from here.
I submitted the form, and soon received a very suspicious “receipt” in my junk mailbox.
Who was this LYNETTE CHIANG, living in 1000 Main Street San Diego, a few thousand miles from where I live in the USA?
The system told me the request had been submitted, but strangely, I wasn’t asked for any money. I rationalized they’d get me when I resumed my online filing.
On attempting to print out the form, I was told to go download Acrobat Reader, which I already had.
I started to get very uncomfortable, and wrote to Intuit via their Contact screen.
At least I thought it as Intuit.
Subject: RE: Customer Service (#6565-98874206-9263)
Date: April 7, 2008 9:22:27 PM GMT+10:00
Dear Lynette Chiang ,
Thank you for contacting TurboTax Customer Service & Support.
Lynette, I understand that you have followed a link from our web site to file an extension. And it asked your SSN. Also you received an confirmation email. However you feel that this was not a right one.
Lynette, please do not worry. I will surely help you to resolve your issue. I checked with the order number you have provided and found that you have file an Online federal Extension for 2007. So Please do not worry. The link you have provided is the right one to file an Extension. So I kindly request you not to worry about this.
I am glad that we have resolved your issue today. You may receive a survey from us through e-mail in approximately 24 hours asking you about my performance on today’s contact,
as well as comments you may have in regards to the TurboTax product. So we can continue with our promise to provide our customers with the best support available, please take a few minutes to complete the survey.
TurboTax Customer Service & Support
Have a great day!
Now, what’s one to think? The above email should raise several flags, for sloppy language, punctuation and the fact that the email comes from “turbotax” rather than Intuit. But I’ve just been on the line for three days to a Call Center in India, trying to get my wireless USB modem working – how can I say anything about the above and not sound unintentionally xenophobic?
Net scammers could well be rejoicing that their giveaway bad spelling and grammar might now be de rigueur, given that customer service is increasingly farmed out to call centers.
Feeling concerned, I replied that I was going to report them to the IRS, but … the email bounced.
Slightly panicking, I decided to try and place a 90 day fraud alert on my credit report.
Via the (hopefully) trustworthy Federal Trade Commission Site, I navigated over to Equifax.com, one of the three credit reporting agencies.
Lo and behold, another online link, with a smiling woman also asking you for your social security number. Doggedly I filled it in and was dismayed when “nothing happened” on hitting enter – another telltale sign of something phishy.
I tried to call Equifax but was led around a labyrinth – the kind that say “good bye” at the end and hang up.
Even the FTC site looked suspicious, asking for a barrage of info to be typed into a rather rudimentary HTML page:
And then I read with dismay that fake credit card agencies are now the vogue:
Not to mention Turbotax admitting to being a target itself for internet fraud:
Now why didn’t they tell me?
Finally, I thought I’d appeal to the community. I tried to go onto the TurboTax forum and ask the rabble for their smarts, but despite being logged in, it kept asking me to log in
There was nothing on it under www.snopes.com either.
I really don’t know what to do or what make of all this – calling anyone leads to endless phone menus. I’ve either been phished, scammed and spammed, or web designers are just getting sloppy – I’d normally berate them for that crime but would give them a stay of execution this one time.
I went back into the extension request site to repeat the steps using dummy data as a test, and this time a new screen popped up asking me to pay $9.95 and enter credit card details. Hello Intuit, is that you?
I’ll be damned if I’m going to do that.
Now if Intuit had a Customer Evangelist she’d be on the calling me right now on my Australian mobile 0420 968 967 or emailing me at my address lynettec at bikefriday dot com right now to solve my problem – rather than have me scrambling about trying to contact them with no success. And a whole community would rise up and squash these folks, like when the Bike Friday and bicycling community recovered a stolen Bike Friday in Berkeley last year.
Remember, a community needs to be fed and watered – a slew of forums full of unanswered pleas does not a community make.
I really hope, for my sake, that Intuit/Turbotax Extension Express page is no more sinister than a bit of sloppy programming.
I’m a child of the electronic age, but think I’m going to start championing pencil and paper again. Make that a wax pencil, the kind the Russian astronauts adopted – rather one that writes upside down in a vat of honey.
Bike Friday Customer Evangelist the Galfromdownunder hopes she’s utterly misguided on this and welcomes opinions from others – this is our community. … now, is the H&R Block granny in the caftan available this afternoon?