Just as tax-filing season is kicking into full gear, taxpayers are being warned about an email
scam that seeks to get their information so it can be used to file false returns.
The Internal Revenue Service said there has been a 400 percent surge in so-called phishing and
malware complaints through this tax season so far.
The 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 ask taxpayers about a variety of topics related to tax refunds, filing
status and personal information. Often links incorporated into the email direct taxpayers to
websites meant to imitate an official-looking website like IRS.gov.
Some taxpayers are getting text messages or being contacted through social media.
The sites may have malware that can infect a taxpayer’s computer and allow criminals to access
the user’s files or track keystrokes to gain information.
“Tax returns are on peoples’ minds. If you’re one of the majority who gets a refund, you’re
eagerly awaiting the status of that refund, and scammers are playing off that,” said Jennifer
Jenkins, an IRS spokeswoman.
Through Tuesday, the IRS said it had received 1,389 complaints this year. That’s more than the
agency received for all of 2014 and is already more than half of the 2,748 complaints last
Jenkins figures that the number of complaints represents just a small number of people who
actually have received the emails.
“It does take extra time and an extra step by reporting the scam and bringing it to the
attention of the proper authorities,” she said. “It may help the prosecution and getting the crooks
from trying to take advantage of people and holding them accountable.”
Tax professionals are hearing from clients about the email scams, as well as receiving emails
trying to scam their firms.
Ted Johnson, a tax- and litigation-support partner with accounting firm Parms + Co. in Columbus,
said the firm has gotten suspicious emails from strangers that would include a link to what the
email would say is that person’s tax information.
In other cases, clients have forwarded emails they received from what were official-looking
sources that have turned out to be suspicious, he said.
Julie Wagner Feasel of Lewis Center, who has been featured in previous stories in The Dispatch
after she became a victim of tax-identity theft, said she received an email in January from
TurboTax telling her that her tax return had not gone through even though she hadn’t tried to file
her 2015 return yet.
“Someone tried to use my Social Security number again to file a tax return,” said Feasel. She
has used TurboTax before, but is using an accountant this year because of her past problems.
The IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social
media. The agency asks that people who get an unsolicited email which appears to be from either the
IRS, or an organization linked to the IRS, report it by sending it to email@example.com.