Christopher Miller, a Nebraska spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service, says an alarming trend has reappeared this year.
“We’re seeing a large increase in bogus e-mail and phishing scams that seek to steal people’s tax data,” Miller explains. Phishing is when someone uses an email address that looks legitimate, but is not, and they are trying to get your personal information. He says reports of the problem are up dramatically.
“We saw a 60% increase in bogus emails and phishing scams, and what’s perhaps most disturbing about that, before that, in the three previous years, we saw a decline,” Miller says. “So we know that the crooks are back at the phishing game.”
Miller says the scams can be very sophisticated and Nebraskans need to beware.
“If they get an email in their inbox that looks like a trusted source has sent it to them — like a bank or credit card company or even the IRS — be very cautious. Don’t open any of the links, because that’s where people get into trouble,” Miller says.
He says once you open the links, they ask you for personal information that they can use to file a tax return in your name. They will try all avenues to get to you and it may be someone close to you.
“Thieves may have even compromised your friend’s email address so it might look like your friend is sending you a message, but they are spoofing that address with a slight change in text. Maybe a letter or two is changed. So, be sure to look at your friends who are sending you messages that seem a bit suspicious,” Miller says.
If the email is asking you for things like your Social Security number or bank information, that’s a big clue that it’s a phishing attempt.
“Remember, the IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email to ask for personal information,” Miller says, “in fact, no reputable agency or business will ask for personal information over email.” Miller says you can help them try to stop these attacks.
“If you get one of these phishing email scams in your inbox, we want to you take the entire thing and copy it and put it into another message and send it to the IRS,” Miller says. “You can send suspicious emails to email@example.com and we’ll try to track it or potentially shut it down.”
One recent campaign used emails with subjects like “IRS Important Notice,” “IRS Taxpayer Notice” and other variations to demand a payment or they threaten to seize the recipient’s tax refund.