Recognize Phishing Email Scams

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (November 28, 2017) - The IRS reminds taxpayers to be on the lookout for new, sophisticated email phishing scams that can compromise personal information and affect a taxpayer’s refund. This week is National Tax Security Awareness Week and the IRS is partnering with state tax agencies, including the Maryland Comptroller’s Office and other industry stakeholders to remind people about the importance of data protection.

“One of my top priorities as Comptroller is to stop cyber thieves from tricking Marylanders with bogus emails seeking personal financial information,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “Working together with our federal and state partners, we will hold accountable these scammers who take advantage of law-abiding taxpayers.”

Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to get personal information from the user. Typically, the criminal fools someone into believing the phishing email is from someone they trust. The emails often look and feel like authentic communications, but these targeted messages can trick even the most cautious person into doing something that may compromise data.

Taxpayers should be vigilant and skeptical. Even if the email is from a known source, they should use caution because cyber crooks are very good at mimicking trusted businesses, friends and family.

Here are six examples of email phishing scams:

  • Emails requesting personal information. The thief might ask for bank account numbers, passwords, credit cards and Social Security numbers. This is the most common way thieves steal data.
  • An email urgently warning the recipient to update online financial accounts at a hyperlink provided in the email. The link goes to a fake site.
  • A message with an email address spoofing a familiar address to look like trusted businesses, friends and family. The fake address has a slight change in text, such as name@example.com vs narne@example.com. Merely changing the “m” to an “r” and “n” can trick people.
  • Emails saying the recipient has a tax refund waiting at the IRS or that the IRS needs information about insurance policies. The IRS doesn’t initiate spontaneous contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.
  • The message has hyperlinks that take someone to a fake site. In one example, the email says: “Following recent calculations, we notice that you are eligible to receive a tax refund. In order to start the refund procedure, please visit this link and follow the steps required.” The link goes to a fake site. The IRS doesn’t send emails asking for refund verification.
  • The message includes a PDF attachment that may download malware or viruses. Never open an attachment from a suspicious email address.

For more information, visit:

IRS National Tax Security Awareness Week Runs Nov. 27 to Dec. 1

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (November 21, 2017) ― For the second year, the Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies – including the Maryland Comptroller’s Office – and the tax industry will host National Tax Security Awareness Week to encourage individual and business taxpayers to take steps to protect their tax data and identities in advance of the 2018 filing season.

Starting Monday, November 27, the focus will be on issues posing a threat to individuals and businesses and steps to protect taxpayers from cybercriminals. In recent years, the IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry – partners in the Security Summit – have enacted a series of defenses to combat tax-related identity theft.

“We are resolute in our commitment to protecting Marylanders’ financial information and the integrity of our tax system,” Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “Throughout the year, my employees work tirelessly to identify fraudulent returns from thieves trying to drain the state coffers and from cheating Maryland citizens.”

Throughout the country, Summit partners and other consumer, business and community groups will host more than 25 events to raise tax data awareness during the week. In Maryland, the Internal Revenue Service’s Stakeholder Liaison – including the Maryland Comptroller’s Office – and the Maryland Society of Accounting and Tax Professionals will take part in a forum from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, November 28, at the University of Phoenix, 8830 Stanford Boulevard, Room 128, in Columbia. Panelists will discuss ways to combat cyber thieves looking to trick people into disclosing sensitive information so they can file fraudulent tax returns.

The holiday season is an especially vulnerable time for online thievery as Marylanders do their holiday shopping and provide credit card and other personal information. Throughout the country, 145 million American have had their names, addresses and Social Security numbers stolen from a variety of locations.

The IRS and states have put many new defenses in place to help protect taxpayers from identity theft. The new IRS protections have worked well and some key indicators of identity theft on tax returns have dropped by around two-thirds since 2015. These protections are especially helpful if criminals only have names, addresses and Social Security numbers. However, the cybercriminals may try to obtain more specific financial details from taxpayers and tax professionals.

During the awareness week, taxpayers and tax professionals will learn:

  • Basic steps to protect themselves and their tax data online, such as using security software, strong passwords and data encryption.
  • What to do if they are a data breach victim, such as placing a freeze on their credit accounts and the signs of tax-related identity theft.
  • How cybercriminals use phishing emails to bait them into disclosing information.
  •  The dangers W-2 Scam that has made identity theft victims of thousands of employees.
  • Those small businesses also are subject to identity theft and should take steps to protect themselves.

The Summit partners will urge taxpayers to protect their tax and financial information by:

  • Learning to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as bank, credit card company and government organizations (including the IRS), and to not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Always using security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Making sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update. Encrypting sensitive files such as tax records you store on your computer. Using strong passwords.
  • Protecting personal data. Using strong unique passwords for each online account. Don’t routinely carry a Social Security card, and making sure tax records are secure. Treat personal information like you do your cash; don’t leave it lying around.

For more information, visit irs.gov.

Franchot to Cross State for Shop Maryland for the Holidays Tour

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (November 16, 2017) - As the holiday season rapidly approaches, Comptroller Peter Franchot is encouraging Marylanders to Shop Maryland for the Holidays as he begins his 2017 statewide holiday shopping tour in Baltimore County today, November 16. 

“With one in five Marylanders directly or indirectly working in retail, the holiday shopping season is important to retailers throughout the state,” said Comptroller Franchot. “Shopping at a local business helps more than 750,000 of our neighbors and friends who make up Maryland’s retail sector.”

The retail industry contributes more than $46 billion to the state’s economy, making it the top private sector employer. according to the Maryland Retailers Association.

“The Maryland Retailers Association is thrilled to join Comptroller Franchot again on his statewide tour encouraging Marylanders to shop local for the holidays,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. “Maryland retailers create jobs, give back to their communities and provide much-needed tax revenue to the state. We continue to hope Marylanders will keep these things in mind when shopping, not just for the holidays, but year-round.”

The Shop Maryland for the Holidays tour will stop in the following cities and towns in every corner of the state:

  • Hunt Valley/Timonium, November 16
  • Bethesda, November 17
  • Hyattsville, November 28
  • Berlin and Cambridge, November 29
  • St. Michaels, December 1
  • Frederick, December 5
  • Annapolis, December 6
  • Hampstead, December 7
  • Cumberland, December 14

Details about each visit will be released several days ahead of the planned stops.

“In-state shopping puts citizens’ hard-earned money back into their communities and supports local businesses that employ friends and neighbors,” said Franchot. “Shopping locally gets consumers the best product, service and experience for their dollar.”

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MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joe Shapiro: 410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (cell)
Alan Brody: 410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (cell)

IRS, Comptroller’s Office, MSATP to Discuss Protection from Tax Thieves

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (November 14, 2017) – The Internal Revenue Service’s Stakeholder Liaison – including the Maryland Comptroller’s Office – and the Maryland Society of Accounting and Tax Professionals will join in a National Tax Security Awareness Forum from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, November 28 at the University of Phoenix, 8830 Stanford Boulevard, Room 128, in Columbia.

“I wholeheartedly applaud this effort to educate our tax professionals in the latest techniques to stop cyber thieves in their tracks and to prevent innocent Marylanders from becoming victims,” Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “We continue to be vigilant and resolute in our commitment to protect Marylanders’ financial information and the integrity of our tax system.”

Participants will include representatives from the IRS and Maryland Comptroller’s Office, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, members of MSATP and the Small Business Administration. The event is open to new and existing small business owners, small business and industry representatives, small business service providers, tax professionals and the news media.

The discussion will center on ways to be aware of cybercriminals using phishing emails to bait victims into divulging sensitive information and W-2 scams that make steal the identity of thousands of employees and businesses. Specific topics will include:

• Data Breach and Data Security
• Don’t Take the Bait
• Identity Theft Awareness and Victim Assistance.

Visit msatp.org or call 1-800-922-9672 to register.

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MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joe Shapiro: jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (cell)

Alan Brody: abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (cell)

Comptroller Branch Office in Upper Marlboro Closed for Remainder of Monday, August 21

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 21, 2017) – The Comptroller’s Office branch location in the Prince George’s County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro will be closed for the remainder of today due to the lack of air conditioning in the building. Taxpayers may visit Comptroller offices in Greenbelt and in Annapolis at the Revenue Administration Center, which are open with regular hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Taxpayers in need of free state tax assistance can continue to call the taxpayer services line from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-MD TAXES, or 410-260-7980.

MEDIA CONTACT: Vicki Fisher – 410-260-7816 (office), 443-534-6259 (cell)

 

Comptroller’s New Greenbelt Branch Office Now Open

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (July 7, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot has announced that the new Greenbelt Branch Office is now open at Triangle Centre at 6401 Golden Triangle Drive, Suite 100, Greenbelt, MD 20770. The Landover Branch Office closed Friday, June 30.

In March, the Board of Public Works approved a new 10-year lease agreement to make the move possible. The new location will provide more space to serve taxpayers, better signage, convenient parking and access to transit lines.

“The top priority of the professionals working at the Greenbelt office will be to continue to provide quality service focused on helping Marylanders with their tax questions and concerns,” Comptroller Franchot said. “We provide a broad range of services for area taxpayers so they can avoid long trips to our primary offices in Baltimore and Annapolis.”

Taxpayers in need of free state tax assistance can call the taxpayer services line from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-MD TAXES, or 410-260-7980. They may also visit any branch office with locations across the state.

Comptroller’s Hagerstown Branch Office Moving to More Convenient Location on June 1

Current location to be closed Wednesday, May 31, to facilitate move

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 18, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that the Hagerstown branch office will be closed on Wednesday, May 31, to allow the agency to move from its current location in the Professional Arts Building at 1 South Potomac Street to its new location at 1850 Dual Highway, Suite 201, Hagerstown, MD 21740. The office will re-open Thursday, June 1.

In January, the Board of Public Works approved a new 10-year lease agreement to make the move possible. The Comptroller’s Office staff worked to find a location that was accessible, convenient and one that offered ample parking.

“The new Hagerstown office is close to the highway, has strong visibility and will offer more convenient parking for taxpayers,” Comptroller Franchot said in describing his priorities for the new branch. “We provide a broad range of services for area taxpayers so they can avoid long trips to our primary offices in Baltimore and Annapolis.”

The current office will close on May 30 at 4:30 p.m. and the new office will reopen on June 1 at 8:30 a.m. Taxpayers in need of assistance on May 31 may visit branch offices in Cumberland or Frederick. Taxpayers in need of free state tax assistance also can call the taxpayer services line from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-MD TAXES, or 410-260-7980.

Media Contact: Barbara Sauers, 410-260-7438 (office) and 410-212-9414 (cell)

Comptroller Franchot Warns Taxpayers of Dangerous W-2 Phishing Scam

School districts, Tribal casinos, Chain Restaurants, Temporary Staffing Agencies, Healthcare, Shipping and Freight industries Now Being Targeted

ANNAPOLIS, MD (February 3, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot is warning taxpayers about a W-2 phishing scam targeting schools, restaurants, hospitals, tribal groups and others. The Comptroller said his agency and Internal Revenue Service are alerting employers that the Form W-2 email phishing scam has moved beyond businesses to school districts, tribal organizations and nonprofits. The W-2 scammers also are trying to steal employee W-2 information with an older scheme on wire transfers, which can victimize organizations twice.

“My agency is committed to protecting Maryland taxpayers and stays vigilant for email phishing scams that seek to steal people’s private financial information. These types of crime can lead to fraudulent tax returns, identity theft and can devastate the victims’ financial well-being,” Comptroller Franchot said.

Cybercriminals are using various spoofing techniques to disguise an email to make it appear as if it is from a company or an organization’s executive. The email is sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their Forms W-2.  The IRS says the W-2 scam, which first appeared last year, has started earlier this tax season and affects a broader cross-section of organizations. Businesses that received the scam email last year also are reportedly receiving it again this year. Cybercriminals then follow up with an “executive” email to the payroll or corporate comptroller asking that a wire transfer also be made to a certain account.

The Comptroller’s Office advises taxpayers not to reply to emails asking for confidential information, most especially Social Security numbers, birth dates, salary information or home address.  Maryland taxpayers may call 1-800-MD-TAXES or send an email to QRDT@comp.state.md.us to report a problem.

MEDIA CONTACT: Barbara Sauers (410) 260-7438 (office), (410) 212-9414 (cell)

Comptroller Franchot Announces Opening of 2017 Tax Filing Season

Individual Tax Returns Will Begin Processing January 23

CAPTION: Comptroller Peter Franchot speaks with Taxpayer Services employees Xochil Llama, left, and Dana Hopkins during a visit to his agency’s Revenues Administration Division (RAD). Deputy Comptroller Sharonne Bonardi and RAD Director Wayne Green joined the Comptroller.

ANNAPOLIS, MD (January 12, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that Maryland will begin processing personal income tax returns for Tax Year 2016 on January 23, 2017, the same day the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) begins accepting returns. In an ongoing effort to combat tax fraud, the agency will not immediately process a state tax return if W-2 information is not on file. Employers are required to report wage information to the Comptroller on or before Jan. 31.

“When Americans have been directly affected by fraud, identity theft, data breaches and other financial crimes, the security of the Maryland taxpayer remains my top priority this tax season,” Franchot said. “Making sure W-2 information is on file at the time a return is received is in keeping with that effort. Last year, my agency stopped processing state tax returns from more than 60 companies whose purpose was to prey on the vulnerable, the homeless and those with limited financial means. I will continue to lead the charge against these unscrupulous practices this tax season.”

Last year, the Maryland Comptroller’s office stopped accepting income tax returns from 61 companies doing business in 68 locations, including 23 different Liberty Tax Service franchises, for submitting numerous highly suspicious returns. Collectively, they filed thousands of state returns that the agency believed to be fraudulent. Processing of business tax returns began Jan. 6.

The 2016 tax return filing deadline this year, which coincides with the IRS deadline, is Tuesday, April 18, rather than the traditional April 15 deadline which falls on a Saturday this year. Since Emancipation Day is observed on April 17 in the District of Columbia, the IRS pushed the filing deadline to Tuesday April 18. Taxpayers are encouraged to file their returns electronically for the fastest possible processing of their claims and to ensure they receive all possible refunds. A list of approved vendors for use in filing your electronic return can be found at www.marylandtaxes.com.

Free state tax assistance is available at all of the agency’s 12 taxpayer service offices, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A list of office locations can be found at www.marylandtaxes.com. For more information on any tax-related matter, please visit the Comptroller’s website at www.marylandtaxes.com or call 1-800-MD-TAXES (1-800-638-2937) or 410-260-7980 in Central Maryland.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Peter Hamm 410-260-7060 (office) or 443-414-3083 (cell)
Alan Brody 410-260-6346 (office) or 443-924-1473 (cell)