increase in email scamsIt’s no secret that 2016 has so far been a landmark year for tax identity theft, and according to the IRS, an increase in email scams has been significant. In a statement released on Feb. 18, the bureau said it has seen an overall increase in phishing and malware scams of approximately 400% in comparison to previous years. These scams are typically perpetuated by email, but they can also be sent via text message, so taxpayers with smartphones should be on alert for suspicious texts as well as emails popping up in their inbox. So far, the IRS has noted 1,389 incidents in 2016 — which tops the total recorded in 2014 and is halfway to the total for 2015. These incidents have been recorded in all areas of the country, so everyone should be on alert.

How can I tell if I’ve received a scam email?

The idea of these emails is to try and trick taxpayers into thinking they are receiving official communication from the IRS or another official tax-related entity, such as a tax preparation service, so they will usually contain images and links designed to try and fool you. The emails can be about a variety of tax-related topics, such as confirming your personal information, verifying your PIN, ordering transcripts, questions about your filing status and information about your tax return. Usually they will contain a link which, when clicked, will direct you to a website that may be set up to look like a legitimate website (such as www.irs.gov) and request personal information such as your social security number. Some of these links will contain malware, which when installed onto your computer can potentially give hackers access to your files and data.

What should I do if I receive one of these emails?

It’s important for taxpayers to understand that “the IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information,” as explained on the bureau’s phishing and online scams page. As such, if you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS (or anything else related to your taxes), examine it carefully. Many scam emails offer telltale signs, such as strange formatting or misspellings and grammatical errors. In a lot of cases, you can also tell it’s a scam by looking at the email address. No matter what, don’t click any links! If you get an email from your tax preparation service claiming you need to log into your account for some reason, type the URL into your web browser (or use Google search to locate the correct website) and log in that way.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to forward any phishing emails they receive to the bureau at phishing@irs.gov so the scammers can be tracked down and dealt with.

For more information about tax identity theft and how you can protect yourself, follow our blog on the topic.