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New phishing scam targets tax pros, but everyone needs to be on guard

Phishing hook sad fish out of water

New phishing scam targets tax pros, but everyone needs to be on guard

The Internal Revenue Service today warned tax professionals about a new spearphishing scam. I'm surprised we made it into February before the latest tax scam appeared.

This email scam uses the IRS logo. It also tries to ramp up the already urgent tax season by using a variety of subject lines, such as "Action Required: Your account has now been put on hold."

The IRS provided bogus text of this scam below.

Your account has now been put on hold

ALL preparers are required to apply security feature to their Tax Pro account towards 2021 Tax Returns processing.

You have failed to apply new update before expiry date

You are restore and update your acc|ount immediately.

Please Click Here to update your acc|ount now.

Important

Failure to update your account within the next 24hours will lead to you account being terminated and be barred from filing tax returns claims for 2021 tax season Your access will be restored once you have updated your details.

Sincerely,

IRS.gov eServices

Note the awkward phrasing and typos. These are immediate red flags that an unexpected email is likely a scam.

Other current tax pro scam variations: "Scams continue to evolve, and this one is especially sinister since it threatens tax professional's accounts," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in announcing this phishing email.

The IRS says it has seen similar bogus emails that claim to be from a "tax preparation application provider." The scam email will send users to a website that shows the logos of several popular tax software preparation providers.

Clicking on one of these logos opens a pop-up window and a request that the tax preparer enter account credentials. If the tax pro scam target complies, crooks use this information to file fraudulent returns by using the legitimate authorizations.

In other cases, going to the website can allow criminals to download malware onto the tax professional's computer. That could lead to a scam variation where crooks say they've received an "unusual activity report" on the tax pros' account, and offer a solution link that can, falsely, restore their account.

Tried and true scams still out there, too: In addition to this new "account hold" scam, crooks still are using the oldie-but-baddies.

I'm not a tax preparer, but because I write about taxes, I often get requests from people for help in filing their returns. Some are honest queries. In these cases, I direct them to reputable tax preparers or professional associations that can offer the tax help they need.

Other inquiries are more suspicious, like the one below I got last month.

Scam client request phishing jan2022_cropped-redacted

This email, which went into my junk folder (and yes, I check it periodically since some things that go there aren't junk), might be from a real small business owner who needs help. If that's the case, sorry. I hope you found a tax pro to help you.

But I tend to agree with my email filter this time. Many of these scam emails originate with bots that, as in this case, don't grasp the finer points of grammar. Also, this emailer/phisher was throwing out three tax years (confused much?), as well as an effort to get me to reply by asking for my tax prep rates.

Plus, this potential client scam has been around for a while. It got a boost with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many tax preparers to interact remotely with clients, both new and returning ones.

Tax pros AND taxpayers, beware: While today's scam warning from the IRS is for tax professionals, all of us taxpayers also need to be on guard during tax filing season.

Anyone who gets a tax-related scam email should save the message as a file and then send it as an attachment to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

Tax professionals also should check out IRS Publication 5293, Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself Data Security Resource Guide for Tax Professionals.

Then notify the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to report any IRS impersonation scam. Both TIGTA and the IRS Criminal Investigation division are aware of this latest scam, but added reports can help the find, stop, and prosecute the perpetrators.

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