ANNAPOLIS, Md. – On the weekend before the federal and Maryland income tax filing deadline, the Internal Revenue Service is warning tax preparers that its investigators believe hackers are infiltrating computers at tax preparation firms and altering returns so they can hijack their client’s refunds. The federal tax agency is urging preparers to take steps to safeguard the returns in their computers. 

“There is a profound advancement under way in tax fraud,” Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “If you’re a taxpayer and you think your refund is overdue, contact the IRS or the state of Maryland right away to report it. And if you’re a tax preparer, follow the IRS’ guidance on the steps you should be taking to protect your client’s returns.”

The IRS urges all tax preparers to take the following steps:

• “Run a security “deep scan” to search for viruses and malware;
• “Strengthen passwords for both computer access and software access; make sure your password is a minimum of 8 digits (more is better) with a mix of numbers, letters and special characters;
• “Be alert for phishing scams: Do not click on links or open attachments from unknown senders;
• “Educate all staff members about the dangers of phishing scams in the form of emails, texts and calls; and
• “Review any software that your employees use to remotely access your network and/or your IT support vendor uses to remotely troubleshoot technical problems and support your systems. Remote access software is a potential target for bad actors to gain entry and take control of a machine.”

The IRS also recommended tax professionals review their Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data, A Guide for Your Business, online at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4557.pdf.

Consumers concerned about their refunds should visit the IRS’ “Where’s my Refund?” online tool at https://www.irs.gov/Refunds. For Maryland state tax refunds, visit http://taxes.marylandtaxes.com/Individual_Taxes/Individual_Tax_Types/Income_Tax/Refund_Information/Questions_About_My_Refund.shtml

Maryland residents with state tax questions can call the appropriate number on a list that can be accessed here: http://taxes.marylandtaxes.com/Resource_Library/Taxpayer_Assistance/Contact_Information/Phone_Numbers.shtml.