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Diligent taxpayers are being increasingly targeted by con artists who are well-versed in manipulating the revenue system. The crooks usually impersonate IRS (U.S. Internal Revenue Service) officials, sending fake emails or messages on social media in an attempt to defraud the targeted individuals of their money. Unfortunately, lots of people fall for these scams, and the malefactors are raking in significant profits. Below is a list of the prevalent tax swindles doing the rounds nowadays.

Email reminders from IRS impostors

In a recent move, fraudsters have been impersonating IRS representatives to hoodwink people into downloading malicious software. The scam revolves around spoof emails with the subject similar to “Automatic Income Tax Reminder” or “Electronic Tax Return Reminder.” The wording varies, though.

These messages include links leading to a replica of the web page that contains information about a purported refund, electronic return or the recipient’s tax account. The criminals also provide an OTP (one-time-password) that supposedly allows the person to access the documents required for submitting the refund. However, this is just a red herring to dupe the taxpayer into downloading malware from the scammers’ server.

The SSN ruse

When perpetrating this stratagem, crooks try to scare the victims into thinking that their Social Security number is about to be suspended or canceled. To this end, the felons have launched a robocall campaign allegedly stemming from the IRS. In order to put extra pressure on the targets, the ne’er-do-wells may make additional claims about overdue taxes. The goal is to make people return the voicemail for further chicanery.

Artifice based on caller ID spoofing

Another form of the IRS impersonation fraud involves robocalls from what appears to be a phone number of the local Taxpayer Advocate Service office. In fact, though, the unscrupulous callers leverage a telephone number spoofing technique to add a flavor of legitimacy to the scheme. In case a would-be victim calls back, the malicious actors will try to wheedle out their Social Security number or other sensitive information.

Rogue tax return preparers

Federal tax return preparers are individuals who provide paid assistance in getting tax returns ready to be filed with the IRS. There are more than 750,000 such professionals in the United States. All of them must renew their PTINs (Preparer Tax Identification Numbers) on an annual basis. Having composed a tax return for a client, the preparer needs to sign the document and indicate their valid PTIN.

However, some impostors don’t sign the return. Typically referred to as “ghost” preparers, these swindlers simply print out the document and instruct the taxpayer to sign it before sending it to the IRS. In the case of an electronic form being submitted, they refuse to add a digital signature to it.

To get unsuspecting taxpayers on their hook, these pseudo-experts often promise a big refund or ask for a cut of the refund as their fee. One of the telltale signs of the scam is that the con artists will request payment in cash without providing any receipts. Another giveaway is that they may include inexistent income to make their customers eligible for tax credits. Sometimes the tax refunds will go to the self-proclaimed preparer’s bank account instead of the client’s account.

Hoax circulating via WhatsApp

An intricate scheme with WhatsApp at its core is currently on the rise. While passing themselves off as IRS officials, scammers send deceptive voice messages to taxpayers over this popular encrypted messaging service. There is a great deal of intimidation in this campaign. The perpetrators instruct the recipients to pay an alleged tax debt. To top it off, they feign urgency by stating that the person will be arrested unless the funds are submitted without delay.

Not only is this an offbeat way to demand payment, but it can also be a technique to get hold of one’s personal information. For instance, the crooks may tell the targeted individuals to send a photo of their passport or driver’s license via the messaging service in question.

The e-Services hustle

A new phishing campaign is underway that’s zeroing in on tax professionals who use the e-Services toolkit for online interaction with the IRS. The misleading email is disguised as if it were from “e-Services Registration” and says the recipient must sign a new user agreement; otherwise they won’t be able to access the platform and its products. In order to review and accept the purportedly updated terms of service, the victim is instructed to follow the embedded link, only to visit a phishing site that asks for their e-Services authentication details.

Red flags to look out for

Taxpayers should bear in mind that the IRS doesn’t ask for personal or financial data over email, messaging services or social networks. Therefore, if you happen to receive a request for a password, PIN number or other credentials to access your financial accounts or credit cards, be sure to ignore it.

Furthermore, the IRS doesn’t make phone calls coercing taxpayers to pay a debt via wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card. As a general rule, if you owe taxes, the agency will send you a bill before taking any further action. If you suspect fraud based on the hallmarks above, report it to the IRS immediately.

david balabanAbout the Author: David Balaban is a cybersecurity professional writing for His key competencies include malware analysis, online privacy, and software testing. Additionally, he does his best to stay current with the e-threat landscape and keep tabs on the evolution of computer viruses. With 13 years of experience under his belt, David knows how security works and how important it is to maintain privacy on the Internet.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc