As taxpayers nationwide file their 2018 returns, they should prepare to do battle with the hackers and fraudsters now coming out of hibernation to confiscate your money. Their most dangerous threat this year is the Emotet trojan. If accidentally downloaded, this malware virus hunkers down hidden inside your computer, allowing the hacker to spy on and redirect your data. Emotet already lurks amid the computer software of many banks and financial institutions and tries to trick people into downloading infected documents. Most businesses are now aware of it and have purged it.
But here’s the new wrinkle: “We’ve noticed this scam also masquerading as the IRS,” said agency spokesperson Richard Sanford. The scam email comes with an attachment labeled Tax Account Transcript — or something similar — and the subject line contains a variation on the phrase “tax transcript.” It appears to be a summary of your tax return, so it’s tempting to open. But “don’t do it,” urged Sanford. “We do not send unsolicited emails to the public, nor would we email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript.”
Your information is out there. Hackers claimed 16.7 million U.S. victims in 2017 alone, cheating them out of $16.8 billion.
Hackers can also morph into phone spoofers, either when they’re after your legitimate tax return or to get the illegitimate tax refund from the return they’ve created. “Criminals call, claiming to be from a local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) office,” said agency spokesman Sanford, “having programmed their computers to display the TAC telephone number that appears on the taxpayer’s caller ID.”
It probably sounds convincing, unless the taxpayer is aware that the IRS never communicates through other government offices this way. The IRS does offer defenses, but you have to know where to look. If you suspect a phony email, go the firstname.lastname@example.org website to report the hack and forward the fraudulent email.
One solution is to file early before the tax cheats. But it’s not always possible, since you have to wait for your W-2s, 1099s and other financial documents to arrive. Scammers don’t encounter this: They simply forge these documents. “These criminals are super-smart,” said Emy Donavan, global head of cyber at insurer AGCS, “and they’re creating the largest transfer of wealth in history.”