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Scammers target tax preparers in new EFIN phishing email

Tax preparer with clients_California Tax Education Council (CTEC)
Tax preparers nationwide already are working on clients' returns. Crooks also are working to steal info on and from those tax professionals.

The Internal Revenue Service won't start accepting and processing 2020 tax returns until Feb. 12. Tax professionals, however, have been working of their clients returns since the new year arrived.

That means tax criminals also doing their so-called jobs.

The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and tax industry today announced that there's a new scam email being sent to tax professionals. The phishing message impersonates the IRS and attempts to steal Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFINs).

While all of us individual taxpayers do and should worry about tax schemes designed to get our personal financial and tax information, the reality is that crooks are looking for the biggest score.

They can do that by one-stop scamming of tax preparers, who have a plethora of filing data in one easy to aim at target. When the crooks succeed, they get their hands on client data and the preparers' identities, allowing them to file fraudulent tax returns for refunds.

"Phishing scams are the most common tool used by identity thieves to trick tax professionals into disclosing sensitive information, and we often see increased activity during filing season," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

The commissioner also urged tax pros to remain vigilant, noting that even before the new filing season has officially started, "scammers are very active and very creative."

Phishing for EFIN info: This latest scam email says it is from "IRS Tax E-Filing" and carries the subject line "Verifying your EFIN before e-filing."

The body of the bogus email states:

In order to help protect both you and your clients from unauthorized/fraudulent activities, the IRS requires that you verify all authorized e-file originators prior to transmitting returns through our system. That means we need your EFIN (e-file identification number) verification and Driver's license before you e-file.

Please have a current PDF copy or image of your EFIN acceptance letter (5880C Letter dated within the last 12 months) or a copy of your IRS EFIN Application Summary, found at your e-Services account at IRS.gov, and Front and Back of Driver's License emailed in order to complete the verification process. Email: (fake email address)

If your EFIN is not verified by our system, your ability to e-file will be disabled until you provide documentation showing your credentials are in good standing to e-file with the IRS.

© 2021 EFILE. All rights reserved. Trademarks 
2800 E. Commerce Center Place, Tucson, AZ 85706

Basically, the scammers are asking tax preparers to email documents that would disclose their identities and EFINs to the thieves. The thieves can use this information to file fraudulent returns by impersonating the tax professional.

This is preferable to simply filing returns in the names stolen from individual taxpayers because it carries the imprimatur of responsible tax professionals who have a history of filing properly with the IRS.

Reporting the scam email: As with all suspect mailings, don't follow the instructions or respond in any way.

Instead, says the IRS, tax professionals who received the scam message should save it as file and then send it as an attachment to phishing@irs.gov.

Then notify the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the IRS impersonation scam at its special web page. This will help TIGTA and the IRS Criminal Investigation division track this scheme and track down the crooks using it.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also would like the info so that it can be shared with investigators. You can provide it through the FTC's online Complaint Assistant.

Not the only tax pro scam: While this is the latest phishing scam targeting tax professionals, it's not the only one.

The IRS says that in addition to seeking EFIN info, other common phishing scams try to get Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs) or e-Services usernames and passwords.

Some thieves also pose as potential clients. This is not a new scheme, but it is especially effective now since the COVID-19 pandemic has meant tax preparers and their clients now are connecting remotely. The thief pretending to be a new client may interact repeatedly with a tax professional and then send an email with an attachment that claims to be their tax information.

The attachment may contain malware that allows the thief to track keystrokes and eventually steal all passwords or take over control of the computer systems.

Other phishing schemes use ransomware, allowing thieves to gain control of tax professionals' computer systems. They hold the data hostage during the critical tax filing season until a ransom is paid. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned against paying a ransom because thieves often leave the data encrypted.

Don't be a victim: The first step for tax pros and individual filers alike is to be on guard. If you get an unsolicited email about your return, be skeptical.

Remember, the IRS does not send unsolicited emails and never emails taxpayers about the status of refunds. If you think you have a tax issue and don't have a tax pro to handle it for you, call the agency yourself directly.

The same process applies to the dang persistent telephone scam where a fake IRS agent calls and says you could end up in jail if you don't return the call and don't do what his literal partner in crime says. I got one of those on my answering machine this morning.

If as a taxpayer, the email says it's from your tax preparer, but is about something that seems sketchy, don't respond immediately. Instead touch base with him or her to make sure the message and its request are legitimate.

You also can check out IRS' special web page where it keeps track of tax scams and consumer alerts. The agency even has a separate one dedicated to phishing and online scams.

Tax pros should review Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data and Identity Theft Information for Tax Professionals.

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