IRS Phishing Scams

douglas mcalpineIn  keeping with our ongoing effort to make you aware of security issues surrounding your tax returns and interaction with the IRS, we are posting the Service’s most recent bulletin regarding security.  Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns at 404-255-7400.

IRS, Security Summit Partners Remind Taxpayers to Recognize Phishing Scams

WASHINGTON –The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners cautioned taxpayers today to avoid identity theft by watching for phishing scams that can increase around the tax season.   The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry – all partners in the fight against identity theft- reminded taxpayers that the easiest way for an identity thief to steal taxpayer information is by simply asking for it. As a result, each day people fall victim to phishing scams through emails, texts, or phone and mistakenly turn over important data. In turn, cybercriminals try to use that data to file fraudulent tax returns or commit other crimes.

This is the second reminder to taxpayers during the “National Tax Security Awareness Week.” This week, the IRS, states and the tax community are sharing information to taxpayers and tax professionals as a part of the ongoing Security Summit effort to combat refund fraud and identity theft.

Surge in Email, Phishing and Malware Schemes

The IRS saw an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season.

Scam emails 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. Emails can seek information related to tax refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts, verifying PIN information and asking people to verify their tax software account.

Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages, and the misleading communications can be seen in every section of the country.

When people click on these email links, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to help file false tax returns. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people’s computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.

For more details, see:

  • IR-2016-28, Consumers Warned of New Surge in IRS Email Schemes during 2016 Tax Season; Tax Industry Also Targeted
  • IR-2016-15, Phishing Remains on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2016 Filing Season

As part of the “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign aimed at encouraging taxpayers to take stronger measures to protect their financial and tax data, the IRS and its Security Summit partners urged people not to give out personal information based on an unsolicited email request.

The campaign calls for taxpayers take the time to examine, identify and avoid emails that:

  • Contain a link. Scammers often pose as the IRS, financial institutions, credit card companies or even tax companies or software providers. These scams may claim they need the recipient to update their account or request they change a password. The email offers a link to a spoofing site that may look similar to the legitimate official website. Taxpayers should follow a simple rule: Don’t click on the link. If in doubt, they should go directly to the legitimate website to access the account.
  • Contain an attachment. Another option for scammers is to include an attachment to the email. This attachment may be infected with malware that can download malicious software onto the recipient’s computer without their knowledge. If it is spyware, it can track the recipient’s keystrokes to obtain information about their passwords, Social Security number, credit cards or other sensitive data. Remember, taxpayers shouldn’t open attachments from unknown sources.
  • Are from a “government” agency or “financial institution.” Scammers attempt to frighten people into opening email links by posing as government agencies, financial institutions and even tax companies. Thieves often try to imitate the official organizations, especially tax-related ones during the filing season.
  • Are from a “friend.” Scammers also hack email accounts and try to leverage the stolen email addresses. Recipients may receive an email from a “friend” that just does not seem right. It may be missing a subject for the subject line or contain odd requests or language as the underlying content. If the email seems “odd,” taxpayers should avoid clicking on any links or opening attachments.
  • Contain a false “lookalike” URL. The sending email may try to trick the recipient with the URL or web address. For example, instead of www.IRS.gov, it may be a false lookalike such as www.irs.gov.maliciousname.com. To verify the authenticity, a recipient can place their cursor over the text to view a pop-up of the real URL.

Learning to recognize and avoid phishing emails – and sharing that knowledge with family members – is critical to combating identity theft and data loss.

Musings from the CEO – Summer 2014

Mike HoffmanI saw a headline the other day that declared “Why You Should Update Your Estate Plan”. Now, there is a topic that I could write a book about!

I have heard statistics that up to 80% of Americans either have no Will, or some attempt at a Last Will and Testament that is sorely inadequate. The basic core documents that everyone needs are a Will, a General Power of Attorney (that kicks-in upon disability or incapacity), and a Health Care Directive. Once these documents are in place, they need to be reviewed periodically. Obviously, tax laws and family circumstances change. Also, more and more people move because of job changes, they retire to another part of the country, or they move closer to their kids and grandchildren.

A little over two years ago, the $5,000,000 estate tax exemption became “permanent”. This does not mean that it won’t change, and in fact, it does change by going up a little bit each year. Going from $600,000 (the exemption in the ‘90’s) to $5,000,000 took most of us off the estate tax paying rolls and did change the focus of a lot of estate planners. We generally pay more attention to income tax matters than we did before. For instance, if a married couple has over $10,000,000 of exemption available, rather than trying to get everything out of their taxable estates, we would like for at least that much property to go to their heirs from their estates (after death), therefore, with a brand new income tax basis.

I read that one commentator expressed that an estate plan is not meant to be put in a time capsule and to be opened and dissected at death. An estate plan will change and evolve. There are many things that can be accomplished with a comprehensive estate plan. Not only are we saving estate taxes, income taxes, and probate costs, we are protecting assets, providing sound management of assets, and taking care of other responsibilities.

How are we leaving assets to our spouse and descendants? Can we be better stewards of our wealth by considering appropriate planning techniques, such as trusts?

It is important to periodically check the ownership and beneficiary designations of life insurance policies to make sure that these liquid assets will be handled appropriately. It is extremely important to review beneficiary designations on IRA accounts and other retirement plan assets. Not only do you want to make sure the assets go where you intend, but you want to maximize potential tax savings.

The ownership of all assets ought to be reviewed periodically. There are several types of joint ownership that have different consequences for estate planning and tax purposes. It is not just deeds for real property that should be checked, but it’s also important to understand how the titling of your investment accounts can affect the treatment of your assets at death.

If you own property in other jurisdictions, such as a house at the beach or in the mountains, this can complicate probate matters for the family. It is a relatively simple matter to use one of several techniques to remove that particular asset from your probate estate, potentially saving a great deal of time, money and aggravation for your spouse and descendants.

Most family/closely-held businesses do not have a succession plan or an exit strategy. This is particularly concerning when it is that family business that created the wealth. Will the business suffer a potential loss of value to the family when the patriarch or matriarch is no longer in the picture?

There are countless reasons why you should update your estate plan. First and foremost, make sure you have an estate plan. A failure to plan is a plan to fail.

 

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.