SALT LAKE CITY — Tax season always brings about scams for some unscrupulous folks, but new research shows COVID-19 may be amplifying the problem.
Coronavirus has changed the way a lot of people are filing. For example, some may not be comfortable venturing out to their accountant. Thieves have been using that fear as an opportunity to pounce, said Nick Hampsen, head of engineering for Checkpoint Software.
Filing your taxes, for many, usually comes down to one form: the 1040. The form requires you, the taxpayer, to sign the document before submitting. Hampson said that has provided a unique COVID opportunity for crooks.
Posing as tax preparers, some have sent out 1040 forms laced with malware, capable of stealing all your passwords, or even holding your computer hostage.
“It is a Trojan horse,” Hampson said. “I think what’s different this year over many years, is that municipalities and governments have been closed. So people have been becoming more conditioned to accepting things over email.”
IRS officials said they were aware of the issue. The agency recently announced they were seeing a “surge in email, phishing and malware schemes.”
Hampsen said protecting yourself comes down to avoiding email links or attachments.
“Nobody should be accepting tax returns or even invitations to file a tax return via an email with a PDF attached,” he said.
Hampsen said these Trojan horses are designed to circumnavigate many antivirus protections because they trick their victims into inviting in a PDF or excel spreadsheet past their firewall, then activating the malware themselves by simply double-clicking on it.