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IRS slowing tax refunds to fight fraud as scams surge

Phishing, malware skyrocket

According to the Government Accountability Office, the IRS prevented $24 billion in fraudulent tax refunds related to identity theft in 2013 , while paying out $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds that it didn’t discover until a year later. And the number of fraud attempts is on the rise: As of March 25, the IRS reported a 400 percent increase in phishing and malware incidents related to the 2016 tax season.

Email phishing campaigns include links to web pages requesting personal information, useful for filing fake returns.

These fake pages often imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov or an e-filing service, and also may carry malware, which can turn over control of the victim’s computer to the attacker. This January alone, the IRS counted 1,026 email-related fraud incidents, compared to 254 a year earlier.

Phishing scams also are targeting employers—because criminals know that’s where they can find large caches of income-related information. One growing trend is the so-called business email compromise (also known as “CEO fraud”), a variation of spear phishing. The phisher does deep research on a targeted company, then impersonates a senior executive to get a subordinate to do something.

Vidur Apparao, chief technology officer at Agari, which offers an email security platform, says malicious attachments and URLs compromised the bulk of spear phishing emails in the past. But what his company is seeing now is phishing ruses aimed at specific employees that leverage trust to get the recipient to take a specific action. Such attacks do not carry any viral attachments or bad URLs that can be detected. Yet they have proven to be very effective duping the recipient into forwarding files containing employees’ W2 forms.

“Criminals are leveraging the cloud at three separate points, in ways they couldn’t before: developing social engineering content, sending out spear phishing attacks and getting back a response,” he says.