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IRS: Tax season e-mail schemes up 400%

Posted at 10:34 AM, Feb 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-18 12:34:00-05

The Internal Revenue Service is warning consumers of e-mail schemes after seeing an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season. 

The e-mails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics, IRS officials said. 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, according to an Internal Revenue Service news release.

"This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "(We’re urging consumers to) watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking e-mails into in-boxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes. We urge people not to click on these emails."

This tax season, the IRS says it has observed fraudsters more frequently asking for personal tax information, which could be used to help file false tax returns.

When people click on these e-mail 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. 

The IRS says it has seen an increase in reported phishing and malware schemes, including:

--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 in the first two weeks of February, 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. 

"While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in e-mail 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."