IRS warns of spear phishing emails

Published: Jul. 12, 2017 at 5:44 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - The Internal Revenue Service warns tax professionals, state tax agencies and anyone working in the tax industry of "spear phishing" emails. The IRS says it's a common cybercriminal tactic that targets practitioners.

"We are seeing repeated instances of cybercriminals targeting tax professionals and obtaining sensitive client information that can be used to file fraudulent tax returns. Spear phishing emails are a common way to target tax professionals," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "We urge practitioners to review this information and take steps to protect themselves and their clients."

A special 10-part series called "Don't Take the Bait" will run each week through mid-September.

The IRS says spear phishing emails pose as familiar entities and may seek to have victims voluntarily disclose sensitive information such as passwords. Some phishing emails encourage victims to open a link or an attachment that downloads malware onto the computer.

The IRS says to be vigilant and notice while the email may be conversational, it's grammatically incorrect and oddly constructed. Another potential sign of a scam to watch is a hyperlink or "tiny URL" which is used to mask the true destination. The IRS says this should be a red flag.

Here's a list of ways the IRS says tax professionals can protect their clients and business from spear phishing:

1. Educate all employees about phishing in general and spear phishing in particular.

2. Use strong, unique passwords. Better yet, use a phrase instead of a word. Use different passwords for each account. Use a mix of letters, numbers and special characters.

3. Never take an email from a familiar source at face value; example: an email from "IRS e-Services." If it asks you to open a link or attachment, or includes a threat to close your account, think twice. Visit the e-Services website for confirmation.

4. If an email contains a link, hover your cursor over the link to see the web address (URL) destination. If it's not a URL you recognize or if it's an abbreviated URL, don't open it.

5. Consider a verbal confirmation by phone if you receive an email from a new client sending you tax information or a client requesting last-minute changes to their refund destination.

6. Use security software to help defend against malware, viruses and known phishing sites and update the software automatically.

7. Use the security options that come with your tax preparation software.

8. Send suspicious tax-related phishing emails to

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