23 Mar 2017

You think only “regular” citizens can fall victim to tax phishing scams?  Think again.

Last Thursday, George McKenzie, the CEO of VA-based cybersecurity firm Defense Point Security, LLC, informed its employees that all of their W-2 information was compromised after a fellow co-worker was ensnared in a hacker’s phishing “net.”  This data included such personal information as employees’ names, SSNs, addresses, and such tax information such as their withholding amounts and annual compensation.

In an email sent to the company’s 200-300 individual employees, Mckenzie tells his employees, “I want to alert you that a Defense Point Security (DPS) team member was the victim of a targeted spear phishing email that resulted in the external release of IRS W-2 Forms for individuals who DPS employed in 2016.  Unfortunately, your W-2 was among those released outside of DPS”

The email did not state when the breach occurred, or who is responsible, but these types of scams generally occur with a “trolling” email that targets employees in Finance or HR departments.  The hacker sends out an email that looks like it is coming from someone high up in the organization, such as the CEO, and requests employee to email the W-2 forms of all employees.  The company has yet to disclose the details of occurrence, however.  

What is known, though, is that this type of information is highly valued by cyber criminals because it contains almost everything that would be needed to file a large, false refund.  The criminals either file the returns themselves or sell the info in black cyber markets.  The 2017 trend has been targeting tax and accounting firms in addition to corporate Finance and HR departments.  And the trend does not appear to be slowing down.  Of the millions of U.S. victims that are impacted annually, a vast majority of them do not find out they have been scammed until after they have filed.  Citizens due a refund are not the only ones at risk; those who owe and those who do not have to file can also become a victim.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat tax fraud.  While it may not be possible to stop a thief from stealing your information, there are ways to defend yourself from being the next victim:

  • FILE EARLY.  Beating a criminal to the punch is the best way to ensure you are the first one to file.
  • CHECK YOUR CREDIT REGULARLY.  You are allowed one free credit report each year from each of the credit bureaus.  If you mark your calendar to check one every 4 months, you can check it for free three times a year.
  • FILE TAX FORM 14039.  The form tells the government that you believe you have been a victim of identity theft.  And with the major breaches that have occurred over the last few years (from Twitter to LinkedIn and just about everything else in between), you are being truthful. Almost every single US citizen has been affected by fraud and the form allows you to request an IP PIN from the government.
  • FREEZE.  Placing a security freeze on your credit file is an even more effective mode of protection than just monitoring it, and while it won’t stop hackers from filing a fraudulent claim on your taxes, it will stop them from opening up credit in your name.
  • BE WARY.  If you work for a company, be very careful what emails you open and what websites you visit.  It’s not just your information that is at risk.

 

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