An advisory issued by the United States Embassy in Belize warns that a scam artist has been targeting Belizeans, sending them false IRS (International Revenue Service) letters in an attempt to get their personal information, which could be used to steal their money and other assets.

“The Embassy of the United States in Belmopan has received multiple reports that a fraudulent ... IRS letter has been mailed and faxed to a number of people in Belize,” says the official release. “The author states the letter is from the IRS and requests personal identification information from the addressee.”

The letters are purportedly signed by a David Smith, Director of Information, and ask for information such as permanent address, social security number, bank account information, and family information, to be faxed to a Seattle, Washington, number. The scam artists ask persons to fill out a form, usually a W-8BEN, used to establish the status of non-resident aliens. However, the IRS says that the legitimate form does not ask for the amount of information that the fake forms do.

The letter begins: “Our records indicate that you are a non-resident alien. As a result, you are exempted from United States of America Tax reporting and withholdings ... you are to authenticate the following by completing form W-8BEN, and return to us as soon as possible.”

This has been a long-running scam, and in 2004 the IRS warned people against giving up personal information to strangers, whether it be in person, over the phone, via mail or the Internet.

Unsuspectingly, some people have given that information over to scam artists, who have wiped out their accounts and stolen their assets, the IRS reports.

The IRS advises anyone who receives such requests by e-mail to forward them to phishing@irs.gov .

It explains that identity theft occurs when someone uses another person’s personal information, such as their name and Social Security number or other identifying data, without permission, in order to commit fraud or other crimes. Some have wrecked other people’s credit by stealing their information and using it without their permission.

The IRS lists 14 other similar scams, including e-mails telling people they are due to get big tax refunds and another titled “Tax Avoidance Investigation” which sometimes leads those who respond to pick up a Trojan Horse virus, which can allow someone else to have remote access to a person’s computer.

Being alert, says the IRS, and taking a wise course of action in not supplying personal information is the best way to shut down these fraudsters.

Amandala