In a consumer alert sent on Feb. 18, the IRS said it has seen a 400 percent surge this tax season in phishing and malware schemes, which attempt to obtain taxpayers’ personal and financial information.
These email tax scams trick taxpayers into believing they are receiving official communications from the IRS, tax software companies, or others in the tax industry. Scammers ask for data related to tax refunds and filing status, and ask taxpayers to confirm such information as ordering transcripts from the IRS and verifying personal identification numbers (PINs).
The IRS said the scams, which have been reported in every section of the country, also come in the form of text messages.
When people click on the email links, they are taken to sites designed to look like official government websites. The fake sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information that scammers can use to file bogus tax returns and receive refunds. These sites also may carry malware that infects taxpayers’ computers and gives cybercriminals access to their files or the ability to track their keystrokes to gain information.
“This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a written statement. “Watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking emails into inboxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes. We urge people not to click on these emails.”
Here’s why the IRS is concerned:
- There were 1,026 phishing and malware incidents reported in January, up from 254 the previous year.
- From Feb. 1 to Feb. 16, 363 incidents were reported, compared to 201 incidents reported for the entire month of February 2015.
- This year’s 1,389 incidents have already exceeded the 2014 yearly total of 1,361 and are halfway to matching the 2,748 reported in 2015.
The IRS said it has seen recent examples of the scam that reference the following subject lines and underlying text:
- Numerous variations about people’s tax refund.
- Update your filing details, which can include references to W-2.
- Confirm your personal information.
- Get my identity protection PIN.
- Get my e-file PIN.
- Order a transcript.
- Complete your tax return information.
Tax professionals are also reporting phishing scams that are seeking their online credentials to IRS services, such as the IRS Tax Professional PTIN System. Practitioners are also reporting that many of their clients are seeing the email schemes.
IRS officials said they are working with state revenue departments, tax-preparation and software companies, and others within the tax industry on how to address these scams.
“While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers,” Koskinen said. “We continue to work cooperatively with our partners on this issue, and we have taken steps to strengthen our processing systems and fraud filters to watch for scam artists trying to use stolen information to file bogus tax returns.”
The IRS reiterated that it usually does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
If a tax professional’s client receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS e-services portal or an organization closely linked to the IRS, that individual should report it to [email protected], the agency said.
The IRS ranked phishing No. 3 in its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for 2016.
About Jason Bramwell
Jason Bramwell is a staff writer and editor for AccountingWEB. He has nearly 20 years of experience in print and online media as a journalist and editor.