Watch Out for These 3 Tax Scams

According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams.

These days, when we consider fraud schemes targeting title agents, we usually think about email scams where criminals attempt to interject themselves into specific transactions for the purpose of diverting a wire.

Such scams can be devastating for agents and consumers, and we must guard against this type of email fraud.

However, scams involving real estate transactions are just one small piece of the larger fraud puzzle; and with tax season upon us, it’s important to remember that our industry is not immune to the types of email and other schemes that are common to other businesses.

According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams.

Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals.

The agency recently released a flurry of alerts warning of various schemes. You can find a full summary on the IRS webpage, but here are just a few highlights.

W-2 scam

The IRS warned that fraudsters are increasingly targeting payroll and human resource departments in an attempt to obtain their Forms W-2, which the criminals then use to file fraudulent tax returns.

To work the scam, the fraudster writes emails that look like they’re from an organization executive. The emails are directed to an internal employee with access to wage and tax information, and they often begin with an innocent greeting, such as: “hi, are you working today.”

Soon, the fraudster asks for all Form W-2 information.

The W-2 phishing scam has victimized hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees in recent years, the IRS said. Employers of all sizes have been affected including public schools, universities, hospitals, tribal governments and charities.

The IRS has established a process allowing businesses and payroll service providers to quickly report any data losses related to the W-2 scam.

Learn more about the process here.

Phone scam

In a recent blog post,”Think Email Fraud is the Only Hack Tactic? Think Again.” , we noted that scammers are increasingly using phone calls to attempt to trick title agents into wiring money to fraudulent accounts.

Some simple technologies even allow fraudsters to spoof phone numbers. So, a criminal could call you, but make it look like the call was coming from someone legitimately involved in the transaction.

As it turns out, tax fraudsters are using this same technology.

The IRS warned that criminals claiming to be IRS employees — using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers — are trying to bully victims into sending them money.

Sometimes the fraudsters claim that the victim has a tax refund coming, and the money can be deposited if the victim provides his or her banking information.

The tax phone scam seems to be targeted toward individuals as opposed to businesses, but it underscores at least two important points: 1.) treat threats and high pressure language as a red flag; and 2.) the telephone isn’t always a “safe” method of communication.

Malware

Malware scams certainly aren’t new. Basically, the fraudster sends an email that looks like it’s from a trusted source, such as a business contact, a reputable company or a government agency.

The email directs the receiver to click a hyperlink or open an attachment.

When clicked, malicious software loads onto the victim’s computer, and the scammer uses that software to gain access to sensitive systems and information.

Fraudsters often attempt to trick title agents and others involved in real estate transactions into clicking malicious links by sending emails purporting to contain “important closing documents.”

By now many agents have seen the “closing documents” scheme, and they know how to avoid it. However, companies need to remain vigilant for other types of malware emails.

In recent weeks, the IRS has seen a surge in malware emails targeting the employees of all types of businesses. The emails, which appear to come from the IRS, carry malicious attachments labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar. The words “tax transcript” often appear in the subject line.

The IRS reminded taxpayers that it does not send unsolicited emails to the public and would never email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript, which is a summary of a tax return.

If using a personal computer, such emails should be deleted or forwarded to phishing@irs.gov, the agency said. Those who receive such emails at work should notify their company’s technology team.

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Nate Marinchick

Nate Marinchick

Director of Research and Educational Programming, ANTIC

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This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

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