Tax Season Phishing and Smishing Scams

On March 28, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) started the process of publishing the annual Dirty Dozen list. The first scams highlighted this year are phishing and smishing, which aim to steal sensitive information and use it for identity theft.

IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel stated, "Scammers are relentless in their attempts to obtain sensitive financial and personal information, and impersonating the IRS remains a favorite tactic. People can be anxious to get the latest information about their refund or other tax issues, so scammers frequently try using the IRS as a way to trick people. The IRS urges people to be extra cautious about unsolicited messages and avoid clicking any links in an unsolicited email or text if they are uncertain."

The Dirty Dozen campaign is designed to protect taxpayers from financial losses and the compromise of personal information or data. Each year, the IRS Security Summit attempts to educate taxpayers about the latest fraudulent schemes.

During tax season, fraudsters create new and powerful schemes. Both taxpayers and tax professionals are targets of email and text scams. A favorite fraudster strategy is to impersonate the IRS or a state tax agency. Taxpayers should be on guard to protect their information.
  1. Phishing — A phishing attack is an email by a fraudster who often claims to represent the IRS. The most frequent use of phishing is the promise of a phony tax refund. Another strategy is a claim that you must respond immediately or you will face criminal charges for tax fraud.
  2. Smishing — Nearly all taxpayers now have a smartphone with SMS text messaging. A text message by a scammer could be quite effective and look like it is from a trusted source. Text scams include messages such as, "Your account has now been put on hold," or "Unusual Activity Report," or a "Solutions" link to restore your IRS accounts. Taxpayers should not click on any of links as they could load malware on your phone.
  3. Phishing Friend — An effective attack by a fraudster may use a stolen email account of a family member or friend. The fraudster logs on to the email service and sends you the email. Because you are accustomed to receiving emails from a family member or friend, you are much more likely to click on a link and unintentionally load malware on your computer.
A general rule is that you should never click on links or respond to these tax-related phishing or smishing attacks. You can forward emails to If you are the victim of a monetary scam, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

There are specific ways to respond to a phishing attack. If you receive an email or a text message that promises you a large refund, an inheritance or claims you are a lottery winner, do not reply. Do not open attachments or click on any links. Forward the email to and delete the original email. For text messages, send the message to 7726 (SPAM). Additionally, you can email and include both the Caller ID and message and thereafter delete the original text.

If you become aware of a tax scheme, you can report that to the IRS with Form 14242, Report Suspected Abusive Tax Promotions or Preparers.

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