With tax season in full swing, the Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers to beware of phishing emails disguised as official communications from the IRS and others in the tax industry.
In a consumer alert issued Thursday, the IRS said it had received reports of 1,026 incidents of phishing and malware schemes in January, up more than 400% from a year earlier, and the trend has continued so far this month, with the number of incidents nearly doubling to 363.
The phishing emails may seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts, and verifying PIN information. Personal tax information could be used to help file false tax returns.
“This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking emails into inboxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes. We urge people not to click on these emails.”
According to the IRS, the messages in the emails 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 an official-looking site such as IRS.gov.
The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information and also may carry malware that can infect computers, allowing criminals to access files or track keystrokes to gain information.
Tax professionals are also reporting phishing scams that are seeking their online credentials to IRS services, including the IRS Tax Professional PTIN System. They are also reporting that many of their clients are seeing the email scams.
“While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers,” 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.”