There has been a 400% surge in phishing and malware incidents in this tax season alone, the Internal Revenue Service warned this week.
According to the IRS phony emails aimed at fooling taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies.
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“The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. E-mails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information. Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages, and the communications are being reported in every section of the country,” the IRS stated.
According to the IRS:
- There were 1,026 incidents reported in January, up from 254 from a year earlier.
- The trend continued in February, nearly doubling the reported number of incidents compared to a year ago.
- In all, 363 incidents were reported from Feb. 1-16, compared to the 201 incidents reported for the entire month of February 2015.
- This year's 1,389 incidents have already topped the 2014 yearly total of 1,361, and they are halfway to matching the 2015 total of 2,748.
The IRS said that when citizens people click on these email links, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people's computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.
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This tax season the IRS has observed fraudsters more frequently asking for personal tax information, which could be used to help file false tax returns, another scourge. For example, the IRS estimates it paid $5.2 billion in fraudulent identity theft refunds in filing season 2013.
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The phishing warning comes on the heels of a warning by the agency that aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents continues to plague taxpayers.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration in January said it has received reports of roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam.
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