back to article How to tell an AI bot wrote that scammy-looking tax email: No spelling mistakes

A bipartisan group of US senators has urged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to "use all the tools at its disposal to counter AI-generated tax scams," and protect American taxpayers from money-grubbing crooks using chatbots and deepfakes to dupe marks. In a letter this week to IRS commissioner Danny Werfel, senators Maggie …

  1. DS999 Silver badge

    How is this a new threat?

    If I wanted to scam someone via fear of the IRS I'd take an existing IRS letter and create a new one using that as a template. That's presumably what ChatGPT would do. They don't do that because sending letters costs money, sending emails and leaving automated voicemails costs zero. There are already having to do stuff that sets off alarm bells with any normal person, who knows the IRS is not going to ask for payment in the form of Playstation gift cards or whatever. Having perfect grammar and spelling isn't going to make much difference and arguably that's by design.

    The reason there are all the spelling errors etc. in scams is supposedly because the scammers don't want to waste time dealing with people who might have even the slightest clue it is a scam. The bad spelling and grammar leave only the biggest suckers contacting them so they know everyone who does is a real grade A sucker.

    Sure, some will claim "it is because they aren't native English speakers" but it seems impossible to me they couldn't go on a board somewhere and post their spiel and ask for English speakers to help clean it up. Even if you had to pay a few bucks for someone's time it would be worth it if it landed ONE more victim! But paying is not necessary, there will always be griefers out there taking delight in helping "the stupids" get scammed - they'll polish that turd to a mirror shine with perfect spelling and grammar! So I subscribe to the idea that leaving the spelling and grammar errors in it is a deliberate choice.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: How is this a new threat?

      Of course they don't ask for Playstation cards. They ask for XBox as it's an American company.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: How is this a new threat?

      I've heard a theory that at least some scams use the poor grammar as a method of filtering out people who are likely to smell a rat later in the process. If they have to expend manual effort on people who believed the email but don't believe the phone call, they might end up spending more on executing unproductive scams than the people they lose. I doubt that is the reasoning for every scam, and it may not be that common, but it is a plausible hypothesis.

      Of course, people who have specific targets or a more automated attack plan don't bother with that, so there's no guarantee of such easy tells.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How is this a new threat?

      I think you're overthinking and complicating the whole process. They misspell, because they can (or rather, can't), and because they don't care, and they don't care, because the recipients don't care. That's to summarise it in one word.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I recently discovered after more than 5 years, that the emails which purportedly come from the tax dept, actually do. It had never occurred to me even for a moment that they might not be a scam, and I blocked them years ago, without even looking.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      How much do you owe them?

      I need some icons, as I ignored "fraudulent ones" & have a fucking nasty bill now!

  3. Spanners Silver badge

    Another advantage of not being in the USA!

    If I get a letter from the taxman, it is a fake. Developed countries use something comparable to the British PAYE.

    The tax is deducted before I get my payslip. The US does not do this because of intensive lobbying by software companies.

    The tiny number who are not on Pay As You Earn, are generally aware of this.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Another advantage of not being in the USA!

      You have no clue.

      Your Federal and State (& local) income taxes are deducted from your pay by your employer, and you get the net pay apparently the same as where you live. It's only if you have income from investments, gambling, have some type of business or other income ( e.g. you own rental property) or are self-employed that you have to write a check to the IRS, which technically you are supposed to do in the same quarter as you received the income.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Another advantage of not being in the USA!

      This is incorrect. Taxes are also deducted before people are paid, as is quite common because countries like having the money now, not asking for it later. The software companies lobby for making the tax preparation process more difficult so their software is needed, but the money from wages has already been withheld.

      As far as I can tell, neither the method of paying taxes from wages nor the complicated system for preparing documentation has anything to do with how the tax authorities communicate with taxpayers. However your country does it, the communication method is subject to fakes. Whether you're used to getting letters on paper, calls, emails, or anything else, someone can try to imitate the method they used, or as many scammers do, just send something that some people will believe anyway even though it's not how it would normally be done.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    There's a very simple way to achieve what the senators want. Have the IRS communicate entirely by snail mail and heavily publicise that.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Have the IRS communicate entirely by snail mail and heavily publicise that.

      Exactly what the UK's HMRC do. They regularly advertise the fact that they only contact you by snail mail so any email, text or phone call is a scam.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        you're not being serious, are you? I regularly get HMRC comms (generic reminders about due dates, and about how they want to help, etc, etc.) and they ARE genuine. I think ;)

        Not that I ever bother to read them, but that's another story. Now, if they tried to start becoming REALLY helpful, like "we've noticed you can save x amount by paying us less on this or that' - THEN I would become very suspicious indeed!

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          I regularly get HMRC comms (generic reminders about due dates, and about how they want to help, etc, etc.) and they ARE genuine.

          I've never had any myself, but I have an accountant to deal with my tax.To be a bit more precise, HMRC doesn't use anything but snail mail for anything that involves a risk to you. To quote from the HMRC page on phishing:

          You’ll never get an email, text message, message in an application (for example WhatsApp) or a phone call from HMRC which:

          tells you about a tax rebate or penalty

          asks for your personal or payment information

    2. mebh

      "The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information."


      I guess they will make phone calls...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Guardian to hire AI editor

    Someone has to say it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    philosophical-ish question

    if the readers can't spell themselves, how would they be able to tell if an email contains mis-spellings, thus alerting them to a human-written scam, as oppoesed to bot-written scam? Well, sooner or later they won't be able to read at all, and thus(ly) the problem of e-mail scam has been resolved once and for all!

    ... evolving into spoken scam. And spam.

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