KINGMAN – It’s “phishing” season again and there are many unsavory characters with their line in the water trying to hook you, the IRS warns.
Taxpayers need to watch out for fake emails or websites that steal personal information through “phishing” schemes, which continue to be on the IRS list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2017 filing season.
“It’s been going on for quite a few years,” said Larissa Conley, lead tax preparer for Jackson Hewitt in Kingman. “It’s just gotten worse the last two or three years. It’s coming out more in the light because people realize it more and ask questions.”
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.
Mohave Community College sent a letter dated Feb. 3 advising employees that files containing W-2 information were inadvertently released as a result of a phishing scam.
“There was a breach,” MCC Excutive Vice President James Malm told the Daily Miner. “We are concerned about our employees.”
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.
Email messages can look like they come from the IRS or others in the tax community. Keep in mind that the IRS never calls you without first notifying you by regular mail, Conley noted.
Scammers go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages. They’re hoping victims will take the bait and give money, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that can lead to identity theft.
“People realize it more and check it out before they give any money or personal information,” Conley said.
Phishing schemes continue to evolve and can fool even the most savvy computer users. 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,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement.
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.
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 Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
If you receive 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 (EFTPS), report it by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on phishing schemes, go to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page.