Consumers Warned of New Surge in IRS Email Scams During 2016 Tax Season
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The fake emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others

Updated: January 20, 2017

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent emails that have the appearance of being official correspondence from the IRS. The agency says that it saw a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season.

'Phishing' is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial fraud.

In this case, the con artist could also file a false tax return in the victim's name and steal the tax refund that goes along with it.

The fake IRS emails 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. Emails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts, and verifying PIN information.

Taxpayers from all areas of the country have also reported receiving text messages, appearing to be from the IRS, seeking sensitive personal and financial information. Do not respond to any such text message.

These emails and text messages will often contain links. When people click on the 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.

"While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "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."

Recognizing Potential Email Scams

A taxpayer receives an official-looking email from what appears to be an official source—whether the IRS or someone else in the tax industry. The underlying message frequently asks the taxpayer to update important information by clicking on a web link. These links may be masked to appear to go to official pages, but they can go to a scam page designed to look like the official page.

Recent email examples the IRS has seen include subject lines and underlying text referencing:

  • Numerous variations about people's tax refund.
  • Update your filing details, which can include references to W-2.
  • Confirm your personal information.
  • Get my IP Pin.
  • Get my E-file Pin.
  • Order a transcript.
  • Complete your tax return information.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS e-services portal or an organization closely linked to the IRS, report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov. Learn more by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on IRS.gov.

Always remember—the IRS generally does NOT initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords, or similar access information for credit cards, banks, or other financial accounts.

Find out more about what to do if you receive a suspicious IRS-related communication.

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