A phishing campaign has been identified that spoofs the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and advises recipients that they are facing imminent legal action to recover outstanding tax.
The emails are convincing and well written and are final demands for payment to prevent legal action to recover the outstanding funds. The emails warn the recipient that the IRS has made several attempts to make contact by telephone after no response was received to a written demand for payment that the emails claim was mailed 18 months previously in May 2019. The failure to respond has led to the IRS taking legal action, with charges due to be filed imminently to recover the outstanding tax.
In contrast to many scams that seek login credentials or attempt to get the user to open file attachments to trigger a malware download, this scam uses social engineering techniques to scare the recipient into making contact via email to resolve the fictitious issue. The purpose of the scam is to get the recipient to make a fraudulent payment or disclose their financial account information.
The lack of any hyperlinks or email attachments makes it more likely that the email will be delivered to inboxes and will not be identified as malicious by security solutions. Fortunately, SpamTitan users will be protected from this scam as multiple checks are performed which identify the scam for what it is.
The message body contains all the classic hallmarks of a phishing scam:
- There is urgency to get prompt action taken – Immediate resolution of the issue is necessary
- There is a threat of negative consequences if no action is taken – Legal action to recover funds
- The request is plausible, but an atypical request is made – to only make contact via email
The emails include a case file number, detail the outstanding amount – $1450.61 in this case – and include a docket number and warrant ID for the impending legal action. The recipient is told that legal action will proceed in 4 days if payment is not made, and that the opportunity for voluntary action to rectify the issue is coming to an end.
In addition to the threat of legal action and a court case, the recipient is informed that credit reference bureaus may also be notified about the late/missed payment, which would negatively impact their credit score.
The emails have the subject line “Re: Re: Case ID#ON/7722 / WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST,” indicating this is not the first time that the message has been sent, helping to emphasize that this is a final warning.
Steps have been taken to make the email appear official, with the display text of the sender address indicating the message has been sent from support @ irs.gov – the legitimate domain used by the IRS. However, the reply to email address supplied is legal.cc @ outlook.com – Which is clearly not an official IRS domain and the message headers show that the email was not sent from the domain stated.
The email does include a postal address; however, no telephone number is supplied. Full contact information would be provided in official IRS communications, although the IRS would not initiate contact with individuals via email.
The phishing emails highlight the importance of stopping to think about what is being requested and to take time to check emails carefully before responding, no matter how pressing the threat may be. Any request for payment should be verified by phone, with contact information obtained from a trusted source, never the contact details supplied in the email. A call to the IRS would quickly reveal this to be a scam.
The reason these scams succeed is because they rely on individuals responding quickly without thinking. Fortunately, an effective spam filter will detect these scam emails and will quarantine or reject the messages.