IRS sounds the alarm on new phishing scam

Shutterstock image.  Copyright: Robert Kneschke

Professional tax preparers across the country should think twice about opening suspicious emails from purported tax software providers, the Internal Revenue Service warned in an Aug. 11 bulletin.

Unsolicited email from tax software providers, it said, could be from fraudsters looking to break into customer data to steal passwords, Social Security and credit card numbers.

The IRS said the scheme was the latest move by cybercriminals to use the agency and tax issues for criminal gain.

The scam is a classic phishing ploy -- send an official-looking email with an attachment. Get the targeted email recipients to click on the embedded link, which directs them to a website where their computers download malicious software. In this case, said the IRS, the malicious software has the actual name of the users' actual software, only followed by a tell-tale ".exe extension."

Instead of an update, however, tax professionals' computers are infected with key logging software that keeps track of user's keystrokes that can be used to steal all manner of information, including logins, passwords and other data.

The agency said it only knows of a "handful of cases" so far, it sent out the warning because it doesn't want that number to grow.

The IRS knows firsthand what a monumental challenge cyberthieves can be. In 2015, hackers got access to 100,000 taxpayer accounts in IRS systems. Data exposed in the hack included taxpayers' prior-year tax filings, with critical personal information from marital status to Social Security number to adjusted gross income. Those hackers, however, weren't just phishing. They used more sophisticated tactics to break into the agency's facilities.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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