IRS warns of hackers targeting tax professionals during coronavirus pandemic

IRS warns of hackers targeting tax professionals during coronavirus pandemic
© Greg Nash

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Tuesday warned that hackers are looking to take advantage of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to target tax professionals in a bid to steal financial information.

The IRS and its partners in the “Security Summit” program, including state tax agencies and private-sector tax groups, jointly noted that they had seen an uptick in efforts to steal data from tax professionals, as tax season continues in the midst of the pandemic.

“Identity thieves view the pandemic as a chance to exploit tax professionals as well as taxpayers,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement on Tuesday. “They are using every trick of their criminal trade to con people as well as steal valuable personal and financial information to help enable tax-related identity theft.”

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Rettig emphasized that “in many ways, tax pros are one of the first lines of defense. We urge the entire tax community to take additional steps and protect their sensitive data.”

The IRS strongly urged tax professionals to take steps to secure themselves, such as using multi-factor authentication, or two steps, to log-in to secure systems.

Cyber criminals are also increasingly using malicious phishing emails posing as potential clients to tempt tax professionals to click on links or attachments to either input sensitive information, or that contain computer viruses, an issue the IRS also warned individuals to be on guard against. 

The hackers may also use unsecured networks to access and steal financial information or even complete and file client tax returns while changing the bank account information for refunds. 

The agency also strongly emphasized that it will never call, text, or email any American about economic impact payments that are scheduled to begin going out to the public this week as part of the coronavirus stimulus package signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE last month.

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Cyber criminals have increasingly used the pandemic to target health care and financial centers, with the latest IRS warning not representing the first the agency has put out in regards to cyber risks. 

The agency warned the public last week that hackers would likely attempt to target financial information during the COVID-19 outbreak, in particular, to try to get their hands on the relief money from the government. 

CyberScoop reported Monday that hackers accessed the personal information of clients of California-based accounting firm Weber and Company, using information potentially including Social Security numbers to file fake tax returns for these clients. 

Cybersecurity groups have seen a jump in phishing emails since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while major agencies including the World Health Organization and the Department of Health and Human Services have been targeted by hackers in recent weeks.