Tax and accounting firms are prime targets for Phishing Attacks, which are emails which generally have an urgent message, such as your account password expired. They direct you to an official-looking link or attachment. The link may take you to a fake site made to appear like a trusted source and request your username and password. Or, the attachment may contain malware, which secretly downloads malware that tracks keystrokes and allows thieves to eventually steal all the tax pro’s passwords.
“The coronavirus has created new opportunities for cybercriminals to use email to try stealing sensitive information,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The vast majority of data thefts start with a phishing email trick. Identity thieves pose as trusted sources – a client, your software provider or even the IRS – to lure you into clicking on a link or attachment. Remember, don’t take the bait. Learn to recognize and avoid phishing scams.”
This year, IRS identified a highly sophisticated attack against tax firms where thieves gained remote access either through phishing or malware and were able to enter the cloud storage accounts that held client files. In one case, thieves spent 18 months quietly downloading and accessing taxpayer information before they were discovered.
Taxpayers and tax preparers can forward suspicious emails posing as the IRS to email@example.com.
Because phishing emails are so common and successful, Summit partners urge tax professionals to educate all office personnel about the dangers and risks of opening suspicious emails – especially during the COVID-19 period.
All or part of this article ran in originally on IRS.gov as part of the Security Summit series called Working Virtually: Protecting Tax Data at Home and at Work.
Tax professionals also can get help with security recommendations by reviewing the recently revised IRS Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data (PDF), and Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals (PDF) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Publication 5293, Data Security Resource Guide for Tax Professionals (PDF), provides a compilation of data theft information available on IRS.gov. Also, tax professionals should stay connected to the IRS through subscriptions to e-News for Tax Professionals and Social Media or visit Identity Theft Central at IRS.gov/identitytheft.