‘Dirty Dozen’: Spear phishing targets tax pros

By Paul Bonner

Not just taxpayers but tax professionals can fall prey to subterfuge attempting to steal clients' tax information, the IRS said in the eighth item of this year's "Dirty Dozen" tax-related scams and criminal threats.

"Spear phishing," which the IRS discussed Thursday in News Release IR-2022-122, was also highlighted in a February 2022 IRS news release (IR-2022-36). A spear-phishing email impersonates the IRS and is directed at tax return preparers. It uses the IRS logo and may say in its subject line, "Action Required: Your account has now been put on hold."

A variant of that spear-phishing tactic masquerades as coming from a tax preparation software provider, reporting "unusual activity" on the recipient's account and offering a link to restore the account.

In both cases, the IRS said, the email's suggested clickable remedy actually steals account credentials, opening up the tax professional's client records to theft. Such links may also load malware onto the tax professional's computer.

"Tax professionals generally relax a little after filing season, and many take a well-deserved vacation," IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in the latest release. "But don't let your IT defenses down."

In the February news release, the IRS said spear-phishing attempts may also purport to be from "IRS.gov eServices" and entice preparers with a bogus notice that they must apply a security feature to the IRS Tax Pro online account or update their account in other ways. They typically warn that failure to do so within 24 hours will lead to the account being terminated and the user barred from filing tax returns.

For tips on cybersecurity for CPA tax practices, see Rood, "Professional Liability Spotlight: Don't Get Victimized by a Cybercriminal," JofA, October 2021; Odom, "Tax Clinic: Keeping Client Data Secure: How's Your Cybersecurity Immunity?" The Tax Adviser, December 2021; and "Professional Responsibilities in Data Security for Tax Professionals," AICPA Resources.

— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Paul Bonner at Paul.Bonner@aicpa-cima.com.

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