The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued an alert, warning consumers of an influx of tax-related email schemes this filing season.
According to the public advisory, the agency said it received 1,026 reports involving phishing and malware incidents in January alone – a 400 percent increase from the year before.
Furthermore, in February, the reported number of incidents nearly doubled compared to the same time last year. Overall, 363 incidents were reported in the first half of February, compared to 201 incidents reported in the entire month of February 2015.
Less than two months into the new year, the IRS noted that the incidents have already topped the 2014 yearly total of 1,361, and are halfway to matching the 2015 total of 2,748.
“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,” said the agency.
The phishing schemes may ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics – such as information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts or verifying PIN information.
By clicking on malicious email links, consumers are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website like IRS.gov, which asks for Social Security numbers and other personal data.
The sites could also carry malware, used to infect people’s computers and allow criminals to access their files or track their keystrokes to gain more information, including important login credentials.
“Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages, and the communications are being reported in every section of the country,” read the advisory.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the dramatic jump in these phishing and malware scams comes at the busiest time of the tax season.
“Watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking emails into inboxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes,” Koskinen warned. “We urge people not to click on these emails.”
The IRS adds that criminals are likely leveraging the personal tax information to file fraudulent returns.
“While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers,” Koskinen said.
“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.”
The IRS said it’s working to address the issue through the Security Summit initiative with state revenue departments, as well as the tax industry.
Taxpayers should be aware that the IRS generally does not initiate contact with citizens by email, text message or social media channels to request personal or financial information.
For more information, read the complete IRS alert here.