Tax season is now underway and business email compromise scammers have stepped up their efforts to obtain W-2 forms for tax fraud. These attacks often start with spear phishing emails targeting the CEO and the executive board. Once email credentials have been obtained, the accounts are then accessed, and emails are sent internally to payroll and the HR department requesting the W-2 forms of employees who have worked in the previous tax year.

Scammers targets businesses as there is much greater potential for profit than attacks on individual taxpayers, although consumers also need to be wary of IRS-related phishing scams. This time of year sees an increase in IRS phishing scams. Scammers impersonate the IRS and send emails informing taxpayers about a tax refund that is due and demands are sent for outstanding tax, with threats of dire consequences if prompt action is not taken to address issues.

Advances in email security have meant cybercriminals have had to get creative as it is harder to sneak phishing emails past email defenses. Phishing scams are now commonly initiated via text message, post, and over the telephone. There has already been one campaign identified where consumers are being targeted using robocalls warning that Social Security numbers have been suspended after suspicious activity was detected.

While many of these scams seek personal information, others are conducted to spread malware. One threat group that started its tax-related scams early this year is the Emotet gang. A campaign is currently being conducted that uses emails containing fake signed W-9 forms.

Signed W-9 forms are requested by companies from their contractors if they have been paid in excess of $600 during the tax year. Many companies will have requested signed W-9 forms from their contractors to confirm addresses and tax identification numbers, so they will be expecting copies of these forms in their inboxes.

The Emotet emails are short and to the point, saying “Thank you for your help. Pleased see attached file.” The emails include a Word document attachment named W-9.doc. When the document is opened, the Office 365 logo is displayed along with text stating the document was created in OpenOffice and requires the user to enable editing and enable content. Doing so triggers the silent download of the Emotet Trojan.

This is just one of the tax-related messages being used by the Emotet gang. There are likely to be many more variants sent over the next few weeks. Other cybercriminals gangs will similarly be conducting their own tax-themed phishing campaigns to spread different malware variants and ransomware.

Businesses, tax preparers, and consumers need to be on high alert during tax season for phishing scams and emails spreading malware.

Now is a good time for businesses to review their cybersecurity defenses and enhance protection against phishing and malware attacks. If you use Office 365 and rely on the anti-phishing protections built into Office 365 (EOP), you should consider enhancing your anti-phishing and anti-malware protection with a third-party spam filter – One that has superior malspam detection capabilities.

This is an area where TitanHQ can help. SpamTitan uses a variety of advanced techniques to detect and block phishing threats and zero-day malware, including a sandbox where unknown and suspicious email attachments are subject to in-depth analysis. Give the TitanHQ team a call to find out more about SpamTitan, improving office 365 malware and phishing protection, and to arrange a product demonstration and free trial of SpamTitan.

In the meantime, take steps to alert your workforce about tax-season phishing scams and prepare them in case a phishing email arrives in their inbox. An email alert sent to your employees about the threat of tax-season scams could prevent a costly phishing attack or malware infection.