Email and texting scams designed to trick U.S. taxpayers into providing personal data have surged 400% so far this year, the IRS warned Thursday in a renewed consumer alert.
The schemes involve so-called phishing messages designed to trick taxpayers into believing the emails and texts represent official communications from the IRS, tax software companies or others in the tax industry.
The messages typically ask for data related to tax refunds, filing status, or seek confirmation of personal information, including ordering IRS transcripts or verification of IRS Personal Identification Numbers, the tax agency said.
When consumers click on the email links, they are sent to what appear to be government websites that ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information that identity thieves can use to file false tax returns and collect refunds, the IRS said. The sites may also contain malware that infect taxpayers’ computers and enable cyberthieves to gain access to files or track consumers’ keystrokes to get personal data.
“This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen warned. “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.”
Summarizing scams reported across the U.S., the IRS said:
- January featured 1,026 phishing and malware incidents, up from 254 during the same month last year.
- The trend continued in February, with 363 incidents reported through Tuesday. The total topped the 201 full-month total in 2015.
- The 1,389 incidents reported to date represent more than half the 2,748 total for all of last year.
Additionally, tax professionals have reported being targeted by similar phishing scams that seek their online credentials to IRS services.
The IRS said it is working with state revenue departments, tax preparation companies and others the tax industry to address the scams.
“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,” said Koskinen.
Written by Kevin McCoy of USA Today