According to an IRS spokesman, the new phishing email scheme is made to look like an email from the IRS and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The victim is asked to download an FBI questionnaire by clicking the hyperlinked word "here." But, there is no questionnaire--it's actually ransomware that encrypts a computer's hard drive. The criminal will then demand payment to decrypt the data.
"This is a new twist on an old scheme," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a statement. "People should stay vigilant against email scams that try to impersonate the IRS and other agencies that try to lure you into clicking a link or opening an attachment. People with a tax issue won't get their first contact from the IRS with a threatening email or phone call."
A spokesman said the IRS was not able to provide numbers on how many people have been affected by this specific scam.
"There are so many different variations of scams, so we get the word out once we find a new one," the spokesman said.
The IRS says that victims should not pay the ransom. Paying the ransom will only encourage the criminals and most victims do not receive the decryption key after making the payment, the IRS said in a release about the scam.
Other scams, including one that dupes companies into sending employee W-2's, have also been on the uptick, the FBI reports. According to the FBI, there was a 1,300-percent increase in monetary losses from this scheme--businesses wired $3 billion to scammers since January 2015. Businesses in all 50 states have been affected.
According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, there has been an influx in callers impersonating IRS employees and demanding taxpayers buy iTunes gift cards, Green Dot prepaid cards, and other pre-loaded cards to pay off tax debt. These are fraudulent calls, the Treasury Inspector General said in a statement. The IRS will never ask for payment over the phone nor will it ask for payment via gift card.