Phishing Scheme Targets Payroll, HR Departments Seeking Employees’ W-2s

If you receive an email from your CEO or another company executive asking for employees’ W2 forms and other personal information, you may want to pick up the phone and verify that request. Your colleagues’ finances and tax identities may be at stake.

PhishingScamEarlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued an alert to payroll and human resources (HR) professionals to beware of an emerging phishing email scheme that purports to be from company executives and requests personal information on employees. The agency is investigating several cases in which payroll and HR offices mistakenly emailed payroll data including W-2 forms that contain Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information to cybercriminals posing as company executives.

This phishing variation is known as a “spoofing” email, in which scammers either hack into email accounts or create fake emails that look like the real deal. It will contain, for example, the actual name of the company chief executive officer (CEO). The so-called CEO sends an email to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and information including Social Security numbers. The IRS provided the following examples of language used in this particular scam:

  • “Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.”
  • “Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).”
  • “I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2015, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.”

In this tax season alone, the IRS has seen a 400 percent surge in email, malware incident and other scams targeting the wider tax community, which is why phishing recently made the agency’s “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams for the 2016 tax season.

See or Publication 4524 for steps you can take to protect yourself and your employees.



About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.