Tax season is here. Few people can honestly say they look forward to the crunch, but scammers and hackers seem to be having a very good time at everyone else’s expense. A few new hacks have been exposed recently, and they reiterate the importance of being overly protective when it comes to Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
The first is a growing scam involving phishing for W-2 forms. The fraudsters send fake emails to a company’s payroll or HR department claiming to be the CEO or another very high level executive. They ask to see W-2 forms for the whole workforce, or for a list of employees’ personal information: everything from Social Security Numbers to salaries. In seconds, a good scam artist can convince an unknowing HR rep to hand over reams of sensitive information. Once they have addresses, birthdays and SSNs they can file fake tax returns and claim hardworking Americans’ tax refunds. Last year scammers targeted for-profit corporations, but the IRS says they are now focusing on school districts, non-profits and even tribal organizations.
Another scam is victimizing the people preparing tax returns. The phishing starts with a simple email to a tax preparer that looks like a possible client looking for help filing their return. If the preparer responds, the scammer sends a second email with an embedded address or attachment. When the link is clicked or the file is downloaded, the hackers have full access to the tax professional’s computer. They can take email addresses, passwords and any other person information stored there.
You are probably wondering why anyone working in such a sensitive industry would click on a link or download something from a stranger in this day and age. There’s the rub. The scammers find their victims by accessing other victims’ computers. If they break into a friend or colleague’s account, they can trick even the most savvy computer users.
The IRS is urging all taxpayers, and anyone who works with tax information and documents, to be extra vigilant this tax season. If you need to share personal information, don’t do it from a link in an email. Log out from the link and access the site directly.
As people wise up, the scammers get craftier. Unfortunately, a little healthy suspicion can go a long way when it comes to protecting not only your refund, but your entire financial life.