Understanding Short Code Text Messages

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on January 31, 2019

Question

I received a text message from 77958 with a security code for the IRS Password Service. How can I tell if this really is the IRS?

Answer

This question was answered on January 31, 2019. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.


Tax filing season is ‘Christmas for Criminals’ and every year we see new scams attempting to trick taxpayers, so being very careful is a really good idea.

The IRS does not send emails, text messages, direct messages through social media or even call you by phone to notify you of an issue with your tax records.  The only way they alert you of an issue is through regular mail delivered by the US Postal Service.

SMS Scams Increasing
Short Message Service (SMS) a.k.a. text messaging usage is growing as a tool for scammers because they know victims are far more likely to respond. We all typically get a lot of email every day and tend to be more suspicious of fake email messages.

Statistically speaking, the average open rate for email is around 20% while the average open rate for text messages is nearly 100%.

This means a much higher percentage of people respond to text messages than they do to emails and the response time is also much faster, which is why both marketers and scammers love to use it for their activities.

It’s important to start educating yourself about text messaging scams as well as how to verify legitimate messages.

77958 Actually IS the IRS
The IRS will never send you a text message with a link or attachment or ask you for personal information, but they do use SMS for both their online password service and for secure messaging (https://irs.gov/texthelp).

Both 77958 and 38685 are ‘short codes’ that belong to the IRS.  Short codes are special numbers that range from 4 to 6 digits and are generally used as a one-way communication system.  Short code messages are generated by automated communication systems so you can’t reply to them as if there’s a human on the other end.

Verifying the Sender
Short code messages are actually a lot safer because they can’t be easily spoofed like a regular 10-digit phone number can and whenever you get a text message from a short code, it’s easy to figure out who it’s from.

The https://usshortcodedirectory.com website allows you to search their directory of over 8,000 short codes registered through the Common Short Code Administration.

Messages from short codes will generally include specific commands that you can reply with, such as Help or Stop.

Why Did the IRS Text You?
The IRS launched an online resource a couple years ago to assist taxpayers with basic account information, such as balances or making payments. In order to setup an online account, taxpayers must provide an extensive amount of personal information (http://bit.ly/2TrVGdk ) and a mobile device associated with their name.

Once your account is setup, whenever you attempt to login, a security code that’s only valid for a short period of time is sent to your smartphone to ensure that only you can use the account on the Secure Access website. 

The fact that you got the security code means that the system is working to protect your account even if someone steals your username and password.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on January 31, 2019

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