IRS alerts payroll and HR professionals to phishing scheme involving W-2s
HONOLULU – The Internal Revenue Service recently issued an alert to payroll and human resources professionals to beware of an emerging phishing e-mail scheme that purports to be from company executives and requests personal information on employees.
The IRS has learned this scheme – part of the surge in phishing e-mails seen this year – already has claimed several victims, as payroll and human resources offices mistakenly e-mail payroll data (including Forms W-2 that contain Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information) to cybercriminals posing as company executives.
“This is a new twist on an old scheme using the cover of the tax season and W-2 filings to try tricking people into sharing personal data. Now the criminals are focusing their schemes on company payroll departments,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
“If your CEO appears to be e-mailing you for a list of company employees, check it out before you respond. Everyone has a responsibility to remain diligent about confirming the identity of people requesting personal information about employees.”
IRS Criminal Investigation already is reviewing several cases in which people have been tricked into sharing Social Security numbers with what turned out to be cybercriminals. Criminals using personal information stolen elsewhere seek to monetize data, including by filing fraudulent tax returns for refunds.
This phishing variation is known as a “spoofing” e-mail. It will contain, for example, the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this variation, the “CEO” sends an e-mail to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and information, including Social Security numbers.
The e-mail might say, “Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2s of our company staff for a quick review.” Or, “Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary) as at 2/2/2016?”
The IRS recently renewed a wider consumer alert for e-mail schemes after seeing an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season and other reports of scams targeting others in a wider tax community.
The e-mails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies.
These phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. E-mails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.
The IRS, state tax agencies and tax industry are engaged in a public awareness campaign – “Taxes. Security. Together.” – to encourage everyone to do more to protect personal, financial and tax data.
See IRS.gov/taxessecuritytogether or Publication 4524 for additional steps you can take to protect yourself.