Be on the lookout for fake IRS emails as tax season comes to a close. Phishers pretending to be from the IRS are flooding the internet. Last year the IRS saw a 400 percent increase in phishing and malware incidents in the first part of tax season, compared to the same time in 2015. We expect that number to increase and we encourage everyone to follow basic anti-phishing best practices at home and at work to avoid falling victim to these scams.
How do tax phishing emails differ from traditional phishing scams? Hackers send emails pretending to be from the IRS or a tax software company, and try to either trick victims into sending them personal information or get them to click on a link that will infect their computer with malware. These fake emails can seem very realistic and put pressure on people to respond by threatening the validity of a tax return or saying they may owe extra back taxes if they do not answer the hacker’s questions. They can look very official and intimidating! Usually they ask for information related to the victim’s tax refund such as filing status, PIN information, or personal details like their name or social security number. If a hacker tricks you into sending them tax information, they could file a fake tax return in your name and steal your refund.
Fraudsters also run similar scams by phone and text message. But emails scams have been steadily growing over the past few years and the IRS worries that email scams could affect more taxpayers overall.
However, there is some good news. The IRS has added new safeguards to prevent tax fraud and there are some early signs that these tactics are working. They have blocked 631,000 potentially fraudulent tax returns as of March 22 of this year.
Remember, the IRS doesn’t usually email, text, or reach out via social media to ask taxpayers for information. If you get an unsolicited email from the IRS you think is a scam, report it by sending it to [email protected]. You can also get more information from the IRS on common scams and how to protect yourself here.
As always, we recommend everyone follows basic anti-phishing best practices, such as not clicking on unknown links in email messages, checking that the “from” email address matches who the sender claims to be, and keeping all your email applications, browser and web extensions up to date.