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What is Phishing?

April 5, 2016

When Internet fraudsters impersonate legitimate business to attempt to steal your personal information, it is called phishing. They use fake emails, websites and text messages to carry out phishing. The stolen information is used to file false tax returns to pocket exaggerated refunds, and for conducting other financial crimes.

According to the IRS, there has been a “400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season.” Taxpayers receive an official-looking email that claims it is from a bank, the IRS, or an official source. The email may lead to a website or ask the taxpayer to reply to it. On any pretense, it will ask the taxpayer to share personal information such as their Social Security Number, filing status, bank account numbers, credit card number, and PIN. These websites may also contain malware directed to infect computers and allow fraudsters access to personal data.

“The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. E-mails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information,” the IRS says.

Examples of Phishing

A phishing message looks urgent and official. It may look something like this:

“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”

“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

Most Recent Phishing Scams

Fraudsters keep devising newer methods to steal taxpayers’ personal information. The most recent types of phishing scams are:

Tax Refund Scammers Posing as Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

This is a new email scam recently discovered by the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP). In this scam, taxpayers receive emails about tax refunds that appear to be from TAP. In reality, they are sent by scammers who are attempting to steal taxpayers’ information. Do not respond to such emails or click the links located in the messages.

IRS Phone Scam Variation

In the latest variation to the IRS phone scam, scammers call taxpayers over the phone, saying that they have their tax return and need just a few details to process it. They pretend to be IRS agents.

W-2 Scam

This W-2 scam targets payroll and human resources professionals. In it, a phishing message from a company executive, usually the CEO, is received, which requests personal information on employees. The email contains the actual name of the company’s CEO. The request may be a list of employees’ financial and personal information, including Social Security Numbers.

Staying Safe from Phishing

To stay safe from phishing, watch out for:

  • Scammers pretending to be the IRS agents calling immigrants, the elderly or single women demanding payment of back taxes.
  • Scammers duplicating the IRS e-Services web page to steal information from taxpayers.
  • Bogus emails where “the IRS” penalizes you for failure to file on time.
  • Malicious email which claims to be from the IRS Tax Forums, requesting tax professionals to register. The registration form includes personal information.
  • Any unsolicited email that requires you to share personal information over the Internet or phone.
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