IRS: Phishing confuses taxpayers, tops ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of tax scams

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PHOENIX — The Internal Revenue Service issued a release this week warning taxpayers to watch out for fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. These “phishing” schemes continue to be on the annual IRS list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2017 filing season.

Generally, phishing is a form of internet fraud that aims to steal personal information such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, user IDs and passwords.

The IRS saw a big spike in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season. New and evolving phishing schemes have already been seen this month as scam artists work to confuse taxpayers during filing season. The IRS has already seen email schemes in recent weeks targeting tax professionals, payroll professionals, human resources personnel, schools as well as average taxpayers.

In these email schemes, criminals pose as a person or organization the taxpayer trusts or recognizes. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name.  They may pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. Criminals go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages. These criminals hope victims will take the bait and provide money, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that can lead to identity theft.

“These email schemes continue to evolve and can fool even the most cautious person. Email messages can look like they come from the IRS or others in the tax community,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Taxpayers should avoid opening surprise emails or clicking on web links claiming to be from the IRS. Don’t be fooled by unexpected emails about big refunds, tax bills or requesting personal information. That’s not how the IRS communicates with taxpayers.”

Scam emails and websites also can infect a taxpayer’s computer with malware without the user knowing it. The malware can give the criminal access to the device, enabling them to access all sensitive files or track keyboard strokes, exposing login information.

Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or find people to help with their taxes.

For those perpetrating these schemes, the scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Justice Department to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

The IRS has teamed up with state revenue departments and the tax industry to make sure taxpayers understand the dangers to their personal and financial data as part of the “Taxes. Security. Together” campaign.

Criminals increasingly are targeting tax professionals, deploying various types of phishing emails in an attempt to access client data. The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry also launched a public awareness campaign called Protect Your Client; Protect Yourself to warn tax professionals, offer tips and compile alerts.

If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.  Learn more by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page.

Tax professionals who receive unsolicited and suspicious emails that appear to be from the IRS or related to the e-Services program also should report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS generally 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. The IRS has information online that can help protect taxpayers from email scams.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore these rights and the agency’s obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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