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IRS issues alert about new phishing scam targeting HR professionals

IRS sees 400 percent surge in phishing, malware incidents


PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The IRS has issued an alert about a new phishing scheme. This time, scammers are tricking employers into dishing out employee information.

This is the latest scheme in what has been a record year when it comes to scammers trying to fool you.

IRS alerts payroll and HR professionals to phishing scheme involving W-2s

IRS investigators are reviewing the new cases in which HR professionals think they are responding to an email from a company executive asking for a list of employees and their social security numbers.

They later discover it was a fake email, a scammer spoofing a corporate executive's email, which means they provided the information to cybercriminals.

The following are some of the details contained in the e-mails:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.
  • Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).
  • I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2015, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me ASAP.

400 percent surge in phishing/malware incidents:

The IRS has tracked a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season.

  • There were 1,026 incidents reported in January, up from 254 from a year earlier.
  • The trend continued in February, nearly doubling the reported number of incidents compared to a year ago. In all, 363 incidents were reported from Feb. 1-16, compared to the 201 incidents reported for the entire month of February 2015.
  • This year's 1,389 incidents have already topped the 2014 yearly total of 1,361, and they are halfway to matching the 2015 total of 2,748.

"While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers," IRS Commissioner John 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."

Many software companies, tax professionals and state revenue departments have seen variations in the schemes.

For example, tax professionals are also reporting phishing scams that are seeking their online credentials to IRS services, for example the IRS Tax Professional PTIN System. Tax professionals are also reporting that many of their clients are seeing the e-mail schemes.

What to look for in these scams: Taxpayers receive an official-looking email from what appears to be an official source, whether the IRS or someone in the tax industry.

The underlying messages frequently ask taxpayers to update important information by clicking on a web link. The links may be masked to appear to go to official pages, but they can go to a scam page designed to look like the official page. The IRS urges people not to click on these links but instead send the email to phishing@irs.gov.

Recent email examples the IRS has seen include subject lines and underlying text referencing:

  • Numerous variations about people's tax refund.
  • Update your filing details, which can include references to W-2.
  • Confirm your personal information.
  • Get my IP Pin.
  • Get my E-file Pin.
  • Order a transcript.
  • Complete your tax return information.

IMPOSTER CALLS:

IRS imposter phones calls also continue to be a problem.

The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment, nor will we call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here's what you should do:

    • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
    • If you know you don't owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or a twww.tigta.gov.
    • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose "Other" and then "Imposter Scams." If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

    Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue.

    For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type "scam" in the search box.