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By Shawn Tuma, Cybersecurity Partner at Scheef & Stone, LLP

Hunting season just began — the season in which cybercriminals are hunting for W-2 information from your company. They do this by sending emails spoofing high level executives, such as the company President or CEO, to lower level clerical personnel requesting that W-2s for employees be provided by return email. The email is coming from — and then returned to — the criminal, not the executive, along with the W-2s. The company now has a serious data breach on its hands. Worse, your company’s employees’ information has been exposed and they now have this problem to worry about.

Tax Season is Prime Hunting Season for Cybercriminals

Law enforcement officers and cyber forensics professionals are reporting a drastic increase in this scam now, because it is tax season and these scammers are using this for tax related fraud. This week alone I have had 2 new cases come in that involve this scam. If you haven’t been targeted yet, it is likely that you will be very soon.

What Can You Do Now to Protect Your Company?

  1. Send this post to your employees so that they understand what the threat is and that they are the ones who will be targeted. You want to make them aware, discuss the issue with them, and help them understand that they should be very suspicious of any requests to email out anything of this nature (or make payments, such as with the very similar Business Email Compromise).
  2. Limit who has access to your company’s W-2s and other sensitive information.
  3. Put policies and procedures in place to require a second method of making sure that requests like this are valid, before complying (multi-factor authentication).
  4. Learn more about this scam from the FBI’s bulletin on this.

What Do You Do if it Happens to Your Company?

  1. Immediately contact experienced legal counsel who understands how to guide you through these compromises and, ideally, has appropriate contacts with law enforcement to assist in reporting this incident (See Reporting to Law Enforcement).
  2. Report the incident to the FBI or Secret Service and appropriate IRS investigators so that the IRS can implement appropriate procedures to protect your workers whose information was exposed in the W-2s.
  3. Prepare appropriate notifications (Incident Response Checklist) to the people whose information was exposed and be sure to stress to them that the IRS will never contact them directly, for the first time, via email, telephone, text message, social mediaor any way other than through a written “snail mail” letter from the IRS.
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