Email, social media, phones used for ‘Dirty Dozen’ tax scams | #socialmedia


IRS

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today continues its “Dirty
Dozen” scam series with a warning to taxpayers to watch out for
unexpected schemes in the form of emails, text or social media messages
and phone calls.

Unscrupulous individuals seek to obtain personal information for the
purpose of tax-related identity theft. Whether through a telephone call,
text message or email, the con artist tries to convince the recipient
that they need to provide Social Security numbers, bank account or
credit card information or passwords. The scam may also include sending
links that once clicked on can download malicious software that
collects, or “mines” personal data.

Often, criminals pose as someone the recipient knows or frequently
interacts with, whether a social or family relationship or a business
contact. They gather much of this information from social media. A
person’s contacts or ‘friends’ are used to bait the recipient into
thinking they’re dealing with someone they know.

More information on the IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” list can be found on a special section of IRS.gov.

Tax-related phishing scams persist

The IRS warns taxpayers, businesses and tax professionals to be alert
for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and
social media attempts to steal personal information. These attacks tend
to increase during tax season and remain a major cause of identity theft
throughout the year.

Phishing scams target individuals with communications appearing to
come from legitimate sources to collect victims’ personal and financial
data and potentially infect their devices by convincing the target to
download malicious programs. Cybercriminals usually send these phishing
communications by email but may also use text messages or social media
posts or messaging.

These phishing schemes can be tricky and cleverly disguised to look
like they’re from the IRS or from others in the tax community. Taxpayers
are reminded to continually watch out for emails and other scams posing
as the IRS, like those promising a big refund, missing stimulus payment
or even issuing a threat. People should not open attachments or click
on links in those emails or text messages.

Phishing scams targeting tax professionals

As part of the Security Summit
effort, the IRS warns tax professionals about phishing scams involving
verification of Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFIN) and
Centralized Authorization File (CAF) numbers. The agency has seen an
increase in these kinds of scams, along with offers to buy and sell
EFINs and CAFs.

Tax professionals have reported receiving scam e-mails from the fictitious “IRS Tax E-Filing”
and the IRS reminds tax professionals who receive those e-mails to not
open any attachments or click any links. Rather, they should report the
scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The IRS reminds tax professionals to protect themselves against the
unauthorized use of an EFIN. Tax professionals must not transfer their
EFIN or ETIN by sale, merger, loan, gift or otherwise to another entity.

Phishing – new client scams target tax pros

The “New Client” scam continues to be a prevalent form of phishing
for tax pros. Here’s an example in the form of an email: “I just moved
here from Michigan. I have an urgent tax issue and I was hoping you
could help,” the email begins. “I hope you are taking on new clients.”

The email says one attachment is an IRS notice and the other
attachment is the prospective client’s prior-year tax return. This scam
has many variations so tax professionals should be wary and avoid
opening attachments or clicking links when they don’t know the e-mail
sender.

Knowing what to watch for can help. Below is an actual example of another recent new client scam e-mail:

Impersonator phone calls/vishing

Individuals should be wary of unexpected phone calls asking for
personal financial information. The IRS has seen an increase in
voice-related phishing, or ‘vishing,’ particularly from scams related to
federal tax liens. For those receiving phone calls out of the blue,
security experts recommend asking questions of the caller but not
providing any personal information. If in doubt, hang up immediately.

During 2020, almost 400 vishing scams were reported, a 14% increase
from the prior year. Of those vishing scams, 25% were scammers who tried
to use fake tax lien information. The number of tax-lien related scams
increased from 58 in 2019 to 104 in 2020, an increase of 79%. The IRS
urges taxpayers to refrain from engaging potential scammers on the phone
or online.

While both the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission have seen a
decline in the number of reports of scammers claiming to be from the IRS
telephoning potential victims, the agency urges taxpayers to be wary.
(The IRS has seen a 43% decrease in the number of reports of calls from
callers claiming to be from the IRS: 20,500 in 2020 compared to 36,000
in 2019. The FTC saw a 67% decline from 7,694 reports in 2019 to 2,571
in 2020.)

While the numbers may be on the decline, the IRS urges taxpayers to
remain vigilant and to remember the following things about the IRS:

  1. The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes.
  2. The IRS may attempt to reach individuals by telephone but will not
    insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card,
    money order or wire transfer.
  3. The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text or social media.

Recipients of these calls should hang up before giving out any
information. If anyone receives an unexpected call from the IRS that
they believe to be a scam, they can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

Social media scams continue

Taxpayers should be aware of social media scams, which frequently use
events like COVID-19 to try to trick people. Social media enables
unscrupulous individuals to lurk on accounts and extract personal
information to use against the victim. These cons may send emails
impersonating the victim’s family, friends or co-workers.

Social media scams have also led to tax-related identity theft. The
basic element of social media scams is convincing a potential victim
that he or she is dealing with a person close to them that they trust
via email, text or social media messaging.

Using personal information, a scammer may email a potential victim
and include a link to something of interest to the recipient, but which
contains malware intended to commit more crimes. Scammers also
infiltrate their victim’s emails and cell phones to go after their
friends and family with fake emails that appear to be real, and text
messages soliciting, for example, small donations to fake charities that
are appealing to the victims.

Individuals should know that any of their information that is
publicly shared on social media platforms can be collected and used
against them. One way to circumvent these scams is to review privacy
settings and limit data that is publicly shared.

Ransomware on the rise

Financial institutions should be aware of trends and indicators of
ransomware, which is a form of malicious software (“malware”) designed
to block access to a computer system or data. Access is often blocked by
encrypting data or programs on information technology (IT) systems to
extort ransom payments from victims in exchange for decrypting the
information and restoring victims’ access to their systems or data. In
some cases, in addition to the attack, the perpetrators threaten to
publish sensitive files belonging to the victims, which can be
individuals or business entities.

The U.S. Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), has
noted that ransomware attacks continue to rise across various sectors,
particularly across governmental entities as well as financial,
educational and healthcare institutions. Ransomware attacks on small
municipalities and healthcare organizations have increased, likely due
to the victims’ weaker cybersecurity controls, such as inadequate system
backups and ineffective incident response capabilities.

Tactics

Cybercriminals using ransomware often resort to common tactics, such
as wide-scale phishing and targeted spear-phishing campaigns that induce
victims to download a malicious file or go to a malicious site. They
may also exploit remote desktop protocol endpoints and software
vulnerabilities or deploy “drive-by” malware attacks that host malicious
code on legitimate websites. Proactive prevention through effective
cyber hygiene, cybersecurity controls and other best practices are often
the best defense against ransomware.

Ransomware actors are increasingly engaging in selective targeting of
larger enterprises to demand bigger payouts – commonly referred to as
“big game hunting.” Many cybercriminals are sharing resources to enhance
the effectiveness of ransomware attacks, such as ransomware
exploit-kits that come with ready-made malicious codes and tools. These
kits can be purchased, although they are also offered free of charge.

Some ransomware groups are also forming partnerships to share advice,
code, trends, techniques and illegally obtained information over shared
platforms.

Ransomware criminals are also increasingly engaging in “double
extortion schemes,” which involve removing sensitive data from the
targeted networks, encrypting the system files and demanding ransom.

The consequences of a ransomware attack can be severe and
far-reaching, with losses of sensitive, proprietary, and critical
information and loss of business functionality. The role of financial
intermediaries in facilitating ransomware payments and ransomware
attacks are a growing concern for the financial sector because of the
critical role financial institutions play in the collection of ransom
payments.

The IRS reminds taxpayers and tax professionals to keep abreast of
news about fraud-related behavior. Report any instances of fraud
immediately.

For more information visit Tax Fraud Alerts and Tax Scams – How to Report Them.



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