The IRS is warning consumers about a huge spike in the volume of phishing emails related to tax return fraud, something that has become an annual occurrence. The warning comes a couple weeks after the agency issued a similar warning about phone fraud scams related to the IRS.
Numbers compiled by the agency show that there has been a 400 percent increase in the volume of tax-related phishing scams this January, compared to the same month in 2015. In January 2016 the IRS said it received 1,026 incident reports related to tax fraud phishing schemes.
These scams come in a variety of flavors, but generally rely on one of two lures: convincing victims that they owe back taxes, or convincing them that they need to submit some additional personal information to get their refund. Fraudsters have perfected these IRS email scams over the years, and many of the phishing emails look completely authentic, with spoofed email addresses, authentic graphics and other touches. The emails have been highly effective for many years, and IRS officials have continued to warn consumers about the dangers, but the attacks are successful enough that the attackers behind them aren’t going away any time soon.
Not when there’s money to be made.
“This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “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.”
Phone fraud scams related to the IRS also have been a huge problem for consumers, businesses, and the agency itself for several years. These schemes are the same in spirit as the phishing attacks, but are more direct and persistent. It’s a lot easier to delete an email than it is to ignore repeated threatening phone calls telling you that you’re about to be arrested for non-payment of back taxes. That’s the hook that phone scammers use, and to great effect.
The Better Business Bureau said that this scam accounted for 24 percent of all scam reports it received in 2015. IRS officials said that the phone fraud continues to be a huge problem for the agency and tax payers, but the email phishing campaigns are gaining ground.
“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.”
Image from Flickr stream of David Boecke.