During tax season, tax professionals and tax filers are targeted with a variety of IRS phishing scams that attempt to obtain sensitive information that can be used by the scammers to steal identities and file fraudulent tax returns in the names of their victims. The potential rewards for the attackers are significant, with the fake tax returns often resulting in refunds of thousands of dollars being issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

This year is certainly no exception. Several tax season phishing scams have been identified in 2021 with one of the latest scams using phishing lures related to tax refund payments. The phishing emails have subject lines such as “Tax Refund Payment” and “Recalculation of your tax refund payment” which are likely to attract the recipient’s attention and get them to open the emails.

The emails use the genuine IRS logo and inform recipients that they are eligible to receive an additional tax refund, but in order to receive the payment they must click a link and complete a form. The form appears to be an official IRS.gov form, with the page an exact match of the IRS website, although the website on which the form is hosted is not an official IRS domain.

The form asks for a range of highly sensitive personal information to be provided in order for the refund to be processed. The form asks for the individual’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number, current address, and electronic filing PIN. For added realism, the phishing page also displays a popup notification stating, “This US Government System is for Authorized Use Only”, which is the same warning message that is displayed on the genuine IRS website.

The attackers appear to be targeting universities and other educational institutions, both public and private, profit and nonprofit with many of the reported phishing emails from staff and students with .edu email addresses.

Educational institutions should take steps to reduce the risk off their staff and students being duped by these scams. Alerting all .edu account holders to warn them about the campaign is important, especially as these messages are bypassing Office 365 anti-phishing measures and are arriving in inboxes.

Any educational institution that is relying on Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) for blocking spam and phishing emails – EOP is the default protection provided free with Office 365 licenses – should strongly consider improving their anti-phishing defenses with a third-party spam filter.

SpamTitan has been developed to provide superior protection for Office 365 environments. The solution is layered on top of Office 365 and seamlessly integrates with Office 365 email. In addition to significantly improving spam and phishing email protection, dual antivirus engines and sandboxing provide excellent protection from malware.

For further information on SpamTitan anti-phishing protection for higher education, give the SpamTitan team a call today. You can start protecting your institution immediately, with installation and configuration of SpamTitan taking just a few minutes. The solution is also available on a free trial to allow you to assess SpamTitan in your own environment to see the difference it makes before deciding on a purchase.