Old Scam With a New Twist: W-2 Phishing Scam Broadens Targets

The IRS has issued an urgent warning about an old scam that has come back with a new twist.
February 16, 2017

The IRS has issued an urgent warning about an old scam that has come back with a new twist. The W-2 phishing scam started out targeting large corporations, but has now evolved beyond the corporate world and is targeting school districts, tribal organizations and nonprofits.

The scammers will use various spoofing techniques to disguise an email to make it appear that it came from an organization executive. The email is sent to an employee in the HR or payroll department requesting employee W-2 forms, and a list of all employees on staff.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time. It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme,” explains IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

But that’s not all. Scammers have also been following up with another scam - phase two as they’re calling it. The cybercriminal will follow up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller asking that money be wired into a certain account. Although this is not considered “tax related” the cybercriminal is coupling both scams together resulting in some companies losing not only their employees’ W-2s, but also thousands of dollars due to wire transfers.

Better Business Bureau Serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties and the IRS recommend the following tips to help fight this scam.

  • Send the Scam Email to Officials: According to the IRS, organizations receiving a W-2 scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line. Organizations that receive the scams or fall victim to them should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3,) operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 


  • Double Check All Emails: If you receive a questionable email or one from a high up executive asking for any personal information related to you or an employee, call them on the phone and verify that it is actually them asking. Never call a number listed in the email or click on any links unless you’ve verified the email is legitimate; that link may be riddled with viruses.


  • Be Safe Online: Taxpayers and tax preparers should be leery of using a search engine to find technical help with taxes or tax software.Clicking the wrong “tech support” link could cost you. Taxpayers searching for a paid tax professional for tax help can use the IRS Choosing a Tax Professional lookup tool or if taxpayers need free help can review the Free Tax Return Preparation Programs. Taxpayers searching for tax software can use Free File, which offers 12 brand-name products for free, at www.irs.gov/freefile


Remember, the IRS will never contact you by phone (unless they’ve already sent a bill first) or on social media. The IRS will also never harass you, or ask that you pay them with a gift card or through a wire transfer.

Tax season is prime season for scammers, but you don’t have to be their next victim. Remaining alert to what is happening now is key to keeping your personal information safe.

To view or report suspected scams in your area visit BBB Scam Tracker.  For more tax season tips visit our Tax Tips website


ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 13,000 scams reported through Scam Tracker, all available for free at bbb.org. BBB Serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties was founded in 1951 and serves Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, Tulare, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.