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IRS W-2 Form

IRS: Beware of Scam Targeting W-2 Forms

With tax season in full swing, the Internal Revenue Service is warning of a new email scam that’s tricking organizations into providing W-2 forms and money to cyber criminals.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement. “It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme.’’

According to the IRS (link is external), cybercriminals are disguising their phishing emails to make it look like they’re from an organization executive. The email is sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their Forms W-2.  This scam is sometimes referred to as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES).

This scam also appeared last year, but the IRS says it’s circulating earlier in the tax season and to a broader cross-section of organizations, including school districts, tribal casinos, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, healthcare and shipping and freight. Businesses that received the scam email last year also are reportedly receiving it again this year.

In a new twist, the cybercriminals follow up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller and ask that a wire transfer be made to a certain account. Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars due to wire transfers.

The IRS notes that when employers report W-2 thefts immediately to the agency, it can take steps to help protect employees from tax-related identity theft. The agency is also advising employers to consider creating an internal policy, if there isn’t one, regarding the distribution of employee W-2 information and conducting wire transfers.

The agency recommends the following for organizations and employees affected by the scam:

  • Organizations receiving a W-2 scam email should forward it to (link sends e-mail) and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line.
  • Organizations that receive the scams or fall victim to them should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3,) operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Employees whose W-2 forms have been stolen can review the recommended actions by the Federal Trade Commission at (link is external) or the IRS at (link is external).
  • Employees should file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return rejects because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

In addition, the IRS warns taxpayers to be leery of using search engines to find technical help with taxes. Selecting the wrong “tech support” link could lead to a loss of data or an infected computer. Also, software “tech support” will not call users randomly. This is a scam.


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