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Beware: There's a new IRS imposter email tax scam

Mission Impossible mask pull-off scenes screenshot from YouTube video
Those mask pull-off scenes from Mission: Impossible movies are always fun, but real-life impersonators pretending to be from the IRS could cost you dearly. (Screenshot of movie mask reveal montage on YouTube)

We're getting closer to the Oct. 15 filing deadline for those who got an extension back in April to fill out their returns.

You can tell not only by the countdown clock ticking away on the ol' blog (shameless plug: it's in the narrow right-hand column), but also because tax scammers are back.

The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners are warning taxpayers and tax professionals alike about a new IRS impersonation email scam campaign spreading nationally.

Another round of fake IRS emails: As in prior IRS imposter schemes, the crooks hope to convince their victims that they need to take action in connection with a tax return.

In this newest scheme, the IRS says the email subject line may vary, but recent examples use the phrase "Automatic Income Tax Reminder" or "Electronic Tax Return Reminder."

The emails have links that show an IRS.gov-like website with details pretending to be about the taxpayer's refund, electronic return or tax account.

The emails also contain a "temporary password" or "one-time password" so that the targeted recipient can "access" the files to submit the refund.

But when taxpayers try to access these, it turns out to be a malicious file.

Several fake websites used: This latest phishing scheme is extensive in that it uses dozens of compromised websites and web addresses that pose as IRS.gov, according to the real tax agency.

These criminal tentacles infect computers with malware, giving IRS imposters a way to gain control of taxpayers' computers or secretly download software that tracks every keystroke, eventually giving them passwords to sensitive personal and financial accounts.

The numerous fake federal websites also are a challenge for the good tax guys working to shut it down.

Phishing_dont-biteTwo ways to fight tax scams: That's why the legit IRS is relying on us to help in two ways. 

First, don't fall victim to these (and similar) tax identity theft and refund fraud crooks.

"The IRS does not send emails about your tax refund or sensitive financial information," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in the announcement of this new scam.

The IRS also doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.

So if someone says — yes, the persistent IRS impersonation phone scam and its variations are still around — or emails that he/she is from the IRS and "needs" your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts, hang up or ignore the message and/or email. It's a crook.

Second, if that does happen, either in the form of this latest IRS impersonator email scam or similar tax phishing (or phoning) attempts, let the IRS know.

In fact, it was such reports this past week by potential victims that brought this latest scam came to light.

The IRS says the scheme's early victims began notifying phishing@irs.gov about the unsolicited emails from IRS imposters.

When any of the rest of us get this or other fake emails regarding our taxes, we need to do the same. To help us do so, the tax agency has a dedicated Web page on how to report phishing and online scam attempts.

Protect yourself, your data and your clients: Regardless of whether it's your personal data that's in danger or the information you, as a tax professional, have on your many clients, you can take steps to avoid becoming victim.

My March post offers a variety of ways to stymie tax identity theft attempts and scams.

If that's already happened, and sometimes it does even when we're careful, you should check out what to do if you're an ID theft victim.

You also can peruse all my posts on tax scams and tax identity theft (this post will show up first; keep scrolling for the rest), as well as visit the IRS' special online page covering Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance.

Most of all, don't panic, use your common sense and be skeptical.

Yes, taxes are scary and crooks are using our natural trepidation to try to get their hooks into us. Take a breath and think about what any phone call or message purportedly from the IRS is saying. They often don't make much sense when you re-read them.

And if you truly fear, suspect or know you have an issue with the IRS, you need to take the lead. You need to call the IRS directly yourself. Even better, contact your tax professional (or hire one) to help you resolve any tax matters.

Yes, it will cost you, but not as much as having a criminal take over your life.

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