As the US tax season draws to a close, authorities are warning of an alarming rise in “phishing” scams designed to steal sensitive personal and financial information.
The Internal Revenue Service said earlier this year it has noticed “an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far in the 2016 tax season,” and warned of new fraud schemes that aim to get businesses as well as taxpayers to turn over personal information.
Phishing refers to fraudulent emails disguised to appear to come from associates or officials, and ask for information such as passwords or personal information that can be used for identity theft or other fraud schemes.
One of the newer schemes targets payroll and human resources professionals with fake emails which appear to come from company executives requesting personal information on employees, the IRS warned last month.
“In this scam, the ‘CEO’ sends an email to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and financial and personal information including SSNs (social security numbers),” the IRS said.
The scam “has claimed several victims as payroll and human resources offices mistakenly email payroll data,” the US tax agency said.
Another fraud scheme delivers messages to taxpayers telling them about a tax refund, aiming to dupe them into providing personal and financial information, IRS officials said.
The social security numbers are especially sensitive because they cannot be replaced and can lead to long-lasting damage from fraud schemes, security experts say.
Experts note that the phishing schemes can be doubly dangerous because they can not only steal personal information but also plant malicious software on a user’s computer.
“Yes, online criminals want to exploit innocent victims’ personal tax details, and use them to file false tax returns,” security consultant Graham Cluley said in a recent blog post.
“But on many occasions, the attackers will often simply use tax as a lure to trick users into endangering their computer’s safety in the first place, before planting ransomware or other malicious attacks onto a victim’s PC.”