Posts Tagged: tax refund fraud


19
Jul 18

Human Resources Firm ComplyRight Breached

Cloud-based human resources company ComplyRight said this week that a security breach of its Web site may have jeopardized sensitive consumer information — including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Social Security numbers — from tax forms submitted by the company’s thousands of clients on behalf of employees.

Pompano Beach, Fla-based ComplyRight began mailing breach notification letters to affected consumers late last week, but the form letters are extremely vague about the scope and cause of the breach. Indeed, many readers who received these letters wrote to KrebsOnSecurity asking for more information, as the company hadn’t yet published any details about the breach on its Web site. Also, most of those folks said they’d never heard of ComplyRight and could not remember ever doing business with a company by that name.

Neither ComplyRight nor its parent company Taylor Corp. responded to multiple requests for comment this past week. But on Wednesday evening, ComplyRight posted additional facts about the incident on its site, saying a recently completed investigation suggests that fewer than 10 percent of individuals with tax forms prepared on the ComplyRight platform were impacted.

According to ComplyRight’s Web site, some 76,000 organizations — many of them small businesses — use its services to prepare tax forms such as 1099s and W2s on behalf of their employees and/or contractors. While the company didn’t explicitly say which of its cloud services was impacted by the breach, the Web site which handles its tax preparation business is efile4biz.com.

ComplyRight says it learned of the breach on May 22, 2018, and that the “unauthorized access” to its site persisted between April 20, 2018 and May 22, 2018. Continue reading →


16
Apr 18

Deleted Facebook Cybercrime Groups Had 300,000 Members

Hours after being alerted by KrebsOnSecurity, Facebook last week deleted almost 120 private discussion groups totaling more than 300,000 members who flagrantly promoted a host of illicit activities on the social media network’s platform. The scam groups facilitated a broad spectrum of shady activities, including spamming, wire fraud, account takeovers, phony tax refunds, 419 scams, denial-of-service attack-for-hire services and botnet creation tools. The average age of these groups on Facebook’s platform was two years.

On Thursday, April 12, KrebsOnSecurity spent roughly two hours combing Facebook for groups whose sole purpose appeared to be flouting the company’s terms of service agreement about what types of content it will or will not tolerate on its platform.

One of nearly 120 different closed cybercrime groups operating on Facebook that were deleted late last week. In total, there were more than 300,000 members of these groups. The average age of these groups was two years, but some had existed for up to nine years on Facebook

My research centered on groups whose singular focus was promoting all manner of cyber fraud, but most especially those engaged in identity theft, spamming, account takeovers and credit card fraud. Virtually all of these groups advertised their intent by stating well-known terms of fraud in their group names, such as “botnet helpdesk,” “spamming,” “carding” (referring to credit card fraud), “DDoS” (distributed denial-of-service attacks), “tax refund fraud,” and account takeovers.

Each of these closed groups solicited new members to engage in a variety of shady activities. Some had existed on Facebook for up to nine years; approximately ten percent of them had plied their trade on the social network for more than four years.

Here is a spreadsheet (PDF) listing all of the offending groups reported, including: Their stated group names; the length of time they were present on Facebook; the number of members; whether the group was promoting a third-party site on the dark or clear Web; and a link to the offending group. A copy of the same spreadsheet in .csv format is available here.

The biggest collection of groups banned last week were those promoting the sale and use of stolen credit and debit card accounts. The next largest collection of groups included those facilitating account takeovers — methods for mass-hacking emails and passwords for countless online accounts such Amazon, Google, Netflix, PayPal, as well as a host of online banking services.

This rather active Facebook group, which specialized in identity theft and selling stolen bank account logins, was active for roughly three years and had approximately 2,500 members.

In a statement to KrebsOnSecurity, Facebook pledged to be more proactive about policing its network for these types of groups.

“We thank Mr. Krebs for bringing these groups to our attention, we removed them as soon as we investigated,” said Pete Voss, Facebook’s communications director. “We investigated these groups as soon as we were aware of the report, and once we confirmed that they violated our Community Standards, we disabled them and removed the group admins. We encourage our community to report anything they see that they don’t think should be in Facebook, so we can take swift action.” Continue reading →


11
Apr 18

When Identity Thieves Hack Your Accountant

The Internal Revenue Service has been urging tax preparation firms to step up their cybersecurity efforts this year, warning that identity thieves and hackers increasingly are targeting certified public accountants (CPAs) in a bid to siphon oodles of sensitive personal and financial data on taxpayers. This is the story of a CPA in New Jersey whose compromise by malware led to identity theft and phony tax refund requests filed on behalf of his clients.

Last month, KrebsOnSecurity was alerted by security expert Alex Holden of Hold Security about a malware gang that appears to have focused on CPAs. The crooks in this case were using a Web-based keylogger that recorded every keystroke typed on the target’s machine, and periodically uploaded screenshots of whatever was being displayed on the victim’s computer screen at the time.

If you’ve never seen one of these keyloggers in action, viewing their output can be a bit unnerving. This particular malware is not terribly sophisticated, but nevertheless is quite effective. It not only grabs any data the victim submits into Web-based forms, but also captures any typing — including backspaces and typos as we can see in the screenshot below.

The malware records everything its victims type (including backspaces and typos), and frequently takes snapshots of the victim’s computer screen.

Whoever was running this scheme had all victim information uploaded to a site that was protected from data scraping by search engines, but the site itself did not require any form of authentication to view data harvested from victim PCs. Rather, the stolen information was indexed by victim and ordered by day, meaning anyone who knew the right URL could view each day’s keylogging record as one long image file.

Those records suggest that this particular CPA — “John,” a New Jersey professional whose real name will be left out of this story — likely had his computer compromised sometime in mid-March 2018 (at least, this is as far back as the keylogging records go for John).

It’s also not clear exactly which method the thieves used to get malware on John’s machine. Screenshots for John’s account suggest he routinely ignored messages from Microsoft and other third party Windows programs about the need to apply critical security updates.

Messages like this one — about critical security updates available for QuickBooks — went largely ignored, according to multiple screenshots from John’s computer.

More likely, however, John’s computer was compromised by someone who sent him a booby-trapped email attachment or link. When one considers just how frequently CPAs must need to open Microsoft Office and other files submitted by clients and potential clients via email, it’s not hard to imagine how simple it might be for hackers to target and successfully compromise your average CPA.

The keylogging malware itself appears to have been sold (or perhaps directly deployed) by a cybercriminal who uses the nickname ja_far. This individual markets a $50 keylogger product alongside a malware “crypting” service that guarantees his malware will be undetected by most antivirus products for a given number of days after it is used against a victim.

Ja_far’s sales threads for the keylogger used to steal tax and financial data from hundreds of John’s clients.

It seems likely that ja_far’s keylogger was the source of this data because at one point — early in the morning John’s time — the attacker appears to have accidentally pasted ja_far’s jabber instant messenger address into the victim’s screen instead of his own. In all likelihood, John’s assailant was seeking additional crypting services to ensure the keylogger remained undetected on John’s PC. A couple of minutes later, the intruder downloaded a file to John’s PC from file-sharing site sendspace.com.

The attacker apparently messing around on John’s computer while John was not sitting in front of the keyboard.

What I found remarkable about John’s situation was despite receiving notice after notice that the IRS had rejected many of his clients’ tax returns because those returns had already been filed by fraudsters, for at least two weeks John does not appear to have suspected that his compromised computer was likely the source of said fraud inflicted on his clients (or if he did, he didn’t share this notion with any of his friends or family via email).

Instead, John composed and distributed to his clients a form letter about their rejected returns, and another letter that clients could use to alert the IRS and New Jersey tax authorities of suspected identity fraud. Continue reading →


19
Feb 18

IRS Scam Leverages Hacked Tax Preparers, Client Bank Accounts

Identity thieves who specialize in tax refund fraud have been busy of late hacking online accounts at multiple tax preparation firms, using them to file phony refund requests. Once the Internal Revenue Service processes the return and deposits money into bank accounts of the hacked firms’ clients, the crooks contact those clients posing as a collection agency and demand that the money be “returned.”

In one version of the scam, criminals are pretending to be debt collection agency officials acting on behalf of the IRS. They’ll call taxpayers who’ve had fraudulent tax refunds deposited into their bank accounts, claim the refund was deposited in error, and threaten recipients with criminal charges if they fail to forward the money to the collection agency.

This is exactly what happened to a number of customers at a half dozen banks in Oklahoma earlier this month. Elaine Dodd, executive vice president of the fraud division at the Oklahoma Bankers Association, said many financial institutions in the Oklahoma City area had “a good number of customers” who had large sums deposited into their bank accounts at the same time.

Dodd said the bank customers received hefty deposits into their accounts from the U.S. Treasury, and shortly thereafter were contacted by phone by someone claiming to be a collections agent for a firm calling itself DebtCredit and using the Web site name debtcredit[dot]us.

“We’re having customers getting refunds they have not applied for,” Dodd said, noting that the transfers were traced back to a local tax preparer who’d apparently gotten phished or hacked. Those banks are now working with affected customers to close the accounts and open new ones, Dodd said. “If the crooks have breached a tax preparer and can send money to the client, they can sure enough pull money out of those accounts, too.”

Several of the Oklahoma bank’s clients received customized notices from a phony company claiming to be a collections agency hired by the IRS.

The domain debtcredit[dot]us hasn’t been active for some time, but an exact copy of the site to which the bank’s clients were referred by the phony collection agency can be found at jcdebt[dot]com — a domain that was registered less than a month ago. The site purports to be associated with a company in New Jersey called Debt & Credit Consulting Services, but according to a record (PDF) retrieved from the New Jersey Secretary of State’s office, that company’s business license was revoked in 2010.

“You may be puzzled by an erroneous payment from the Internal Revenue Service but in fact it is quite an ordinary situation,” reads the HTML page shared with people who received the fraudulent IRS refunds. It includes a video explaining the matter, and references a case number, the amount and date of the transaction, and provides a list of personal “data reported by the IRS,” including the recipient’s name, Social Security Number (SSN), address, bank name, bank routing number and account number.

All of these details no doubt are included to make the scheme look official; most recipients will never suspect that they received the bank transfer because their accounting firm got hacked.

The scammers even supposedly assign the recipients an individual “appointed debt collector,” complete with a picture of the employee, her name, telephone number and email address. However, the emails to the domain used in the email address from the screenshot above (debtcredit[dot]com) bounced, and no one answers at the provided telephone number.

Along with the Web page listing the recipient’s personal and bank account information, each recipient is given a “transaction error correction letter” with IRS letterhead (see image below) that includes many of the same personal and financial details on the HTML page. It also gives the recipient instructions on the account number, ACH routing and wire number to which the wayward funds are to be wired.

A phony letter from the IRS instructing recipients on how and where to wire the money that was deposited into their bank account as a result of a fraudulent tax refund request filed in their name.

Continue reading →


24
Nov 17

Name+DOB+SSN=FAFSA Data Gold Mine

KrebsOnSecurity has sought to call attention to online services which expose sensitive consumer data if the user knows a handful of static details about a person that are broadly for sale in the cybercrime underground, such as name, date of birth, and Social Security Number. Perhaps the most eye-opening example of this is on display at fafsa.ed.gov, the Web site set up by the U.S. Department of Education for anyone interested in applying for federal student financial aid.

Update, Nov. 28, 12:34 p.m. ET: The Education Department says not all of the data elements mentioned below are accessible on a FAFSA applicant if someone merely knows the static details about that person. Read on for their response to this story.

Original story:

Short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA is an extremely lengthy and detailed form required at all colleges that accept and award federal aid to students.

Visitors to the login page for FAFSA have two options: Enter either the student’s FSA ID and password, or choose “enter the student’s information.” Selecting the latter brings up a prompt to enter the student’s first and last name, followed by their date of birth and Social Security Number.

Anyone who successfully supplies that information on a student who has applied for financial aid through FAFSA then gets to see a virtual colonoscopy of personal information on that individual and their family’s finances — including almost 200 different data elements.

The information returned includes all of these data fields:

1. Student’s Last Name:
2. Student’s First Name:
3. Student’s Middle Initial:
4. Student’s Permanent Mailing Address:
5. Student’s Permanent City:
6. Student’s Permanent State:
7. Student’s Permanent ZIP Code:
8. Student’s Social Security Number:
9. Student’s Date of Birth:
10. Student’s Telephone Number:
11. Student’s Driver’s License Number:
12. Student’s Driver’s License State:
13. Student’s E-mail Address:
14. Student’s Citizenship Status:
15. Student’s Alien Registration Number:
16. Student’s Marital Status:
17. Student’s Marital Status Date:
18. Student’s State of Legal Residence:
19. Was Student a Legal Resident Before January 1, 2012?
20. Student’s Legal Residence Date:
21. Is the Student Male or Female?
22. Register Student With Selective Service System?
23. Drug Conviction Affecting Eligibility?
24. Parent 1 Educational Level:
25. Parent 2 Educational Level:
26. High School or Equivalent Completed?
27a. Student’s High School Name:
27b. Student’s High School City:
27c. Student’s High School State:
28. First Bachelor’s Degree before 2017-2018 School Year?
29. Student’s Grade Level in College in 2017-2018:
30. Type of Degree/Certificate:
31. Interested in Work-study?
32. Student Filed 2015 Income Tax Return?
33. Student’s Type of 2015 Tax Form Used:
34. Student’s 2015 Tax Return Filing Status:
35. Student Eligible to File a 1040A or 1040EZ?
36. Student’s 2015 Adjusted Gross Income:
37. Student’s 2015 U.S. Income Tax Paid:
38. Student’s 2015 Exemptions Claimed:
39. Student’s 2015 Income Earned from Work:
40. Spouse’s 2015 Income Earned from Work:
41. Student’s Total of Cash, Savings, and Checking Accounts:
42. Student’s Net Worth of Current Investments:
43. Student’s Net Worth of Businesses/Investment Farms:
44a. Student’s Education Credits:
44b. Student’s Child Support Paid:
44c. Student’s Taxable Earnings from Need-Based Employment Programs:
44d. Student’s College Grant and Scholarship Aid Reported in AGI:
44e. Student’s Taxable Combat Pay Reported in AGI:
44f. Student’s Cooperative Education Earnings:
45a. Student’s Payments to Tax-Deferred Pensions & Retirement Savings:
45b. Student’s Deductible Payments to IRA/Keogh/Other:
45c. Student’s Child Support Received:
45d. Student’s Tax Exempt Interest Income:
45e. Student’s Untaxed Portions of IRA Distributions:
45f. Student’s Untaxed Portions of Pensions:
45g. Student’s Housing, Food, & Living Allowances:
45h. Student’s Veterans Noneducation Benefits:
45i. Student’s Other Untaxed Income or Benefits:
45j. Money Received or Paid on Student’s Behalf:
46. Student Born Before January 1, 1994?
47. Is Student Married?
48. Working on Master’s or Doctorate in 2017-2018?
49. Is Student on Active Duty in U.S. Armed Forces?
50. Is Student a Veteran?
51. Does Student Have Children He/She Supports?
52. Does Student Have Dependents Other than Children/Spouse?
53. Parents Deceased?/Student Ward of Court?/In Foster Care?
54. Is or Was Student an Emancipated Minor?
55. Is or Was Student in Legal Guardianship?
56. Is Student an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth as Determined by High School/Homeless Liaison?
57. Is Student an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth as Determined by HUD?
58. Is Student an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth as Determined by Director of Homeless Youth Center?
59. Parents’ Marital Status:
60. Parents’ Marital Status Date:
61. Parent 1 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) Social Security Number:
62. Parent 1 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) Last Name:
63. Parent 1 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) First Name Initial:
64. Parent 1 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) Date of Birth:
65. Parent 2 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) Social Security Number:
66. Parent 2 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) Last Name:
67. Parent 2 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) First Name Initial:
68. Parent 2 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) Date of Birth:
69. Parents’ E-mail Address:
70. Parents’ State of Legal Residence:
71. Were Parents Legal Residents Before January 1, 2012?
72. Parents’ Legal Residence Date:
73. Parents’ Number of Family Members in 2017-2018:
74. Parents’ Number in College in 2017-2018 (Parents Excluded):
75. Parents Received Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income?
76. Parents Received SNAP?
77. Parents Received Free/Reduced Price Lunch?
78. Parents Received TANF?
79. Parents Received WIC?
80. Parents Filed 2015 Income Tax Return?
81. Parents’ Type of 2015 Tax Form Used:
82. Parents’ 2015 Tax Return Filing Status:
83. Parents Eligible to File a 1040A or 1040EZ?
84. Is Parent a Dislocated Worker?
85. Parents’ 2015 Adjusted Gross Income:
86. Parents’ 2015 U.S. Income Tax Paid:
87. Parents’ 2015 Exemptions Claimed:
88. Parent 1 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) 2015 Income Earned from Work:
89. Parent 2 (Father’s/Mother’s/Stepparent’s) 2015 Income Earned from Work:
90. Parents’ Total of Cash, Savings, and Checking Accounts:
91. Parents’ Net Worth of Current Investments:
92. Parents’ Net Worth of Businesses/Investment Farms:
93a. Parents’ Education Credits:
93b. Parents’ Child Support Paid:
93c. Parents’ Taxable Earnings from Need-Based Employment Programs:
93d. Parents’ College Grant and Scholarship Aid Reported in AGI:
93e. Parents’ Taxable Combat Pay Reported in AGI:
93f. Parents’ Cooperative Education Earnings:
94a. Parents’ Payments to Tax-Deferred Pensions & Retirement Savings:
94b. Parents’ Deductible Payments to IRA/Keogh/Other:
94c. Parents’ Child Support Received:
94d. Parents’ Tax Exempt Interest Income:
94e. Parents’ Untaxed Portions of IRA Distributions:
94f. Parents’ Untaxed Portions of Pensions:
94g. Parents’ Housing, Food, & Living Allowances:
94h. Parents’ Veterans Noneducation Benefits:
94i. Parents’ Other Untaxed Income or Benefits:
95. Student’s Number of Family Members in 2017-2018:
96. Student’s Number in College in 2017-2018:
97. Student Received Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income?
98. Student Received SNAP?
99. Student Received Free/Reduced Price Lunch?
100. Student Received TANF?
101. Student Received WIC?
102. Is Student or Spouse a Dislocated Worker?
103a. First Federal School Code:
103b. First Housing Plans:
103c. Second Federal School Code:
103d. Second Housing Plans:
103e. Third Federal School Code:
103f. Third Housing Plans:
103g. Fourth Federal School Code:
103h. Fourth Housing Plans:
103i. Fifth Federal School Code:
103j. Fifth Housing Plans:
103k. Sixth Federal School Code:
103l. Sixth Housing Plans:
103m. Seventh Federal School Code:
103n. Seventh Housing Plans:
103o. Eighth Federal School Code:
103p. Eighth Housing Plans:
103q. Ninth Federal School Code:
103r. Ninth Housing Plans:
103s. Tenth Federal School Code:
103t. Tenth Housing Plans:
104. Date Completed:
105. Signed By:
106. Preparer’s Social Security Number:
107. Preparer’s Employer Identification Number (EIN):
108. Preparer’s Signature:

According to the Education Department, nearly 20 million students filled out this form in the 2015/2016 application cycle.

Update: The process described above was based on a demonstration this author saw while sharing a screen with a KrebsOnSecurity reader who had a family member apply for aid through FAFSA. But an Education Department spokesperson took strong exception to my experience, saying that while someone armed with an applicant’s SSN and date of birth would be able to view some of the less sensitive data elements related to an application that has already been submitted and processed, seeing the more sensitive data requires and additional authentication step.

The spokesperson said the data is displayed across several pages that require manual advancement, and that before the pages with financial data are shown the visitor is prompted to supply a username and password that all users are required to create when they start the application process. The agency said that without those credentials, the system should not display the rest of the data.

In cases where a student has saved but not completed an application, the spokesperson said, the applicant is prompted to create a “save key,” or temporary password that needs to be supplied before the financial data is displayed.
Continue reading →


22
May 17

Private Eye Allegedly Used Leaky Goverment Tool in Bid to Find Tax Data on Trump

In March 2017, KrebsOnSecurity warned that thieves who perpetrate tax refund fraud with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service were leveraging a widely-used online student loan tool to find critical data on consumers that allows them to claim huge refunds with the IRS in someone else’s name. This week, it emerged that a Louisiana-based private investigator is being charged with using the same online tool to glean tax data on then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

A story today at Diverseeducation.com points to court filings in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, in which local private eye Jordan Hamlett is accused by federal prosecutors of abusing an automated tool at the U.S. Department of Education website that is designed to make it easier for families to complete the Education Department’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — a lengthy form that serves as the starting point for students seeking federal financial assistance to pay for college or career school.

Grand jury findings in a sealed case against Louisiana private investigator Jordan Hamlett.

Grand jury findings in a sealed case against Louisiana private investigator Jordan Hamlett.

In November 2016, Hamlett — the owner of Baton Rouge-based Averlock Investigations — was indicted on felony charges of trying to glean then President-Elect Trump’s “adjusted gross income,” or AGI, using the FAFSA online tool. In the United States, the AGI is an individual’s total gross income minus specific deductions. Diverse Education’s Jamaal Abdul-Alim cites sources saying the accused may have been trying to get Trump’s tax records.

In any event, he failed, according to prosecutors. Last month, the IRS announced that the Education Department was disabling the FAFSA lookup tool because it was being abused by tax fraudsters.

According to Diverse Education, hints about the case against Hamlett came out earlier this month in an IRS oversight hearing before the U.S. House committee on oversight and government reform. At that hearing, “Timothy P. Camus, deputy inspector general for investigations at the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, alluded to the Hamlett case but did not mention Hamlett by name, nor did he indicate that then-presidential candidate Trump was the target,” Abdul-Alim writes. “Instead, Camus only mentioned that TIGTA ‘detected an attempted access to the AGI of a prominent individual.'”

Attempts to reach Hamlett for comment have been unsuccessful so far, and the complaint against him remains sealed. However, KrebsOnSecurity obtained a response on Nov. 10, 2016 from U.S. Attorney J. Walter Green that lays out the basic facts in the case. A copy of that document is here (PDF).

It’s interesting to note that this wasn’t the only time U.S. government authorities detected someone trying to access Trump’s AGI information. According to the government’s response, the alleged unauthorized attempt at Trump’s AGI data being attributed to Hamlett occurred on Sept. 13, 2016.

In TIGTA Deputy Inspector General Camus’ testimony to the House committee (PDF), he said his office detected a second attempt to access the same “prominent individual’s” AGI data via the FAFSA online lookup in November 2016, although the testimony doesn’t say whether that attempt was successful.

Amazingly, it wasn’t until an IRS employee on February 27, 2017 complained that his personal data was stolen via the FAFSA tool that the IRS moved to restrict online access to the service, according to response to committee questioning from IRS Chief Information Officer S. Gina Garza. Continue reading →


18
May 17

Fraudsters Exploited Lax Security at Equifax’s TALX Payroll Division

Identity thieves who specialize in tax refund fraud had big help this past tax year from Equifax, one of the nation’s largest consumer data brokers and credit bureaus. The trouble stems from TALX, an Equifax subsidiary that provides online payroll, HR and tax services. Equifax says crooks were able to reset the 4-digit PIN given to customer employees as a password and then steal W-2 tax data after successfully answering personal questions about those employees.

In a boilerplate text sent to several affected customers, Equifax said the unauthorized access to customers’ employee tax records happened between April 17, 2016 and March 29, 2017.

Beyond that, the extent of the fraud perpetrated with the help of hacked TALX accounts is unclear, and Equifax refused requests to say how many consumers or payroll service customers may have been impacted by the authentication weaknesses.

Equifax's TALX -- now called Equifax Workforce Solutions -- aided tax thieves by relying on outdated and insufficient consumer authentication methods.

Equifax’s subsidiary TALX — now called Equifax Workforce Solutions — aided tax thieves by relying on outdated and insufficient consumer authentication methods.

Thanks to data breach notification laws in nearly all U.S. states now, we know that so far at least five organizations have received letters from Equifax about a series of incidents over the past year, including defense contractor giant Northrop Grumman; staffing firm Allegis Group; Saint-Gobain Corp.; Erickson Living; and the University of Louisville.

A snippet from TALX’s letter to the New Hampshire attorney general (PDF) offers some insight into the level of security offered by this wholly-owned subsidiary of Equifax. In it, lawyers for TALX downplay the scope of the breach even as they admit the company wasn’t able to tell exactly how much unauthorized access to tax records may have occurred.

“TALX believes that the unauthorized third-party(ies) gained access to the accounts primarily by successfully answering personal questions about the affected employees in order to reset the employees’ pins (the password to the online account portal),” wrote Nicholas A. Oldham, an attorney representing TALX. “Because the accesses generally appear legitimate (e.g., successful use of login credentials), TALX cannot confirm forensically exactly which accounts were, in fact, accessed without authorization, although TALX believes that only a small percentage of these potentially affected accounts were actually affected.”

ANALYSIS

Generally. Forensically. Exactly. Potentially. Actually. Lots of hand-waving from the TALX/Equifax suits. But Equifax should have known better than to rely on a simple PIN for a password, says Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc.

“That’s so 1990s,” Litan said. “It’s pretty unbelievable that a company like Equifax would only protect such sensitive data with just a PIN.”

Litan said TALX should have required customers to use stronger two-factor authentication options, such as one-time tokens sent to an email address or mobile device (as Equifax now says TALX is doing — at least with those we know were notified about possible employee account abuse).

The big consumer credit bureaus like Equifax, Experian, Innovis and Trans Union are all regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which strives to promote accuracy, fairness and privacy for data used by consumer reporting agencies.  But Litan said there are no federal requirements that credit bureaus use stronger authentication for access to consumer data — such as two-factor authentication.

“There’s about 500 percent more protection for credit card data right now than there is for identity data,” Litan said. “And yet I don’t know of one document from the federal government that spells out how these credit bureaus and other companies have to protect PII (personally identifiable information).” Continue reading →


24
Mar 17

Phishing 101 at the School of Hard Knocks

A recent, massive spike in sophisticated and successful phishing attacks is prompting many universities to speed up timetables for deploying mandatory two-factor authentication (2FA) — requiring a one-time code in addition to a password — for access to student and faculty services online. This is the story of one university that accelerated plans to require 2FA after witnessing nearly twice as many phishing victims in the first two-and-half months of this year than it saw in all of 2015.

bgBowling Green State University in Ohio has more than 20,000 students and faculty, and like virtually any other mid-sized state school its Internet users are constantly under attack from scammers trying to phish login credentials for email and online services.

BGSU had planned later this summer to make 2FA mandatory for access to the school’s portal — the primary place where students register for classes, pay bills, and otherwise manage their financial relationship to the university.

That is, until a surge in successful phishing attacks resulted in several students having bank accounts and W-2 tax forms siphoned.

On March 1, 2017 all BGSU account holders were required to change their passwords, and on March 15, 2017 two-factor authentication (Duo) protection was placed in front of the MyBGSU portal [full disclosure: Duo is a longtime advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity].

Matt Haschak, director of IT security and infrastructure at BGSU, said the number of compromised accounts detected at BGSU has risen from 250 in calendar year 2015 to 1000 in 2016, and to approximately 400 in the first 75 days of 2017.

Left unchecked, phishers are on track to steal credentials from nearly 10 percent of the BGSU student body by the end of this year. The university has offered 2FA options for its portal access since June 2016, but until this month few students or faculty were using it, Haschak said.

“We saw very low adoption when it was voluntary,” he said. “And typically the people who adopted it were not my big security risks.”

Haschak said it’s clear that the scale and size of the phishing problem is hardly unique to BGSU.

“As I keep preaching to our campus community, this is not unique to BGSU,” Haschak said. “I’ve been talking a lot lately to my counterparts at universities in Ohio and elsewhere, and we’re all getting hit with these attacks very heavily right now. Some of the phishing scams are pretty good, but unfortunately some are god-awful, and I think people are just not thinking or they’re too busy in their day, they receive something on their phone and they just click it.”

Last month, an especially tricky phishing scam fooled several students who are also employed at the university into giving away their BGSU portal passwords, after which the thieves changed the victims’ direct deposit information so that their money went to accounts controlled by the phishers.

In other scams, the phishers would change the routing number for a bank account tied to a portal user, and then cancel that student’s classes near the beginning of a semester — thus kicking off a fraudulent refund.

One of the victims even had a fraudulent tax refund request filed in her name with the IRS as a result, Haschak said.

“They went in and looked at her W-2 information, which is also available via the portal,” he said. Continue reading →


17
Mar 17

Govt. Cybersecurity Contractor Hit in W-2 Phishing Scam

Just a friendly reminder that phishing scams which spoof the boss and request W-2 tax data on employees are intensifying as tax time nears. The latest victim shows that even cybersecurity experts can fall prey to these increasingly sophisticated attacks.

athookOn Thursday, March 16, the CEO of Defense Point Security, LLC — a Virginia company that bills itself as “the choice provider of cyber security services to the federal government” — told all employees that their W-2 tax data was handed directly to fraudsters after someone inside the company got caught in a phisher’s net.

Alexandria, Va.-based Defense Point Security (recently acquired by management consulting giant Accenture) informed current and former employees this week via email that all of the data from their annual W-2 tax forms — including name, Social Security Number, address, compensation, tax withholding amounts — were snared by a targeted spear phishing email.

“I want to alert you that a Defense Point Security (DPS) team member was the victim of a targeted spear phishing email that resulted in the external release of IRS W-2 Forms for individuals who DPS employed in 2016,” Defense Point CEO George McKenzie wrote in the email alert to employees. “Unfortunately, your W-2 was among those released outside of DPS.”

W-2 scams start with spear phishing emails usually directed at finance and HR personnel. The scam emails will spoof a request from the organization’s CEO (or someone similarly high up in the organization) and request all employee W-2 forms.

Defense Point did not return calls or emails seeking comment. An Accenture spokesperson issued the following brief statement:  “Data protection and our employees are top priorities. Our leadership and security team are providing support to all impacted employees.”

The email that went out to Defense Point employees Thursday does not detail when this incident occurred, to whom the information was sent, or how many employees were impacted. But a review of information about the company on LinkedIn suggests the breach letter likely was sent to around 200 to 300 employees nationwide (if we count past employees also).

Among Defense Point’s more sensitive projects is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Security Operations Center (SOC) based out of Phoenix, Ariz. That SOC handles cyber incident response, vulnerability mitigation, incident handling and cybersecurity policy enforcement for the agency.

Fraudsters who perpetrate tax refund fraud prize W-2 information because it contains virtually all of the data one would need to fraudulently file someone’s taxes and request a large refund in their name. Scammers in tax years past also have massively phished online payroll management account credentials used by corporate HR professionals. This year, they are going after people who run tax preparation firms, and W-2’s are now being openly sold in underground cybercrime stores.

Tax refund fraud affects hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of U.S. citizens annually. Victims usually first learn of the crime after having their returns rejected because scammers beat them to it. Even those who are not required to file a return can be victims of refund fraud, as can those who are not actually due a refund from the IRS. Continue reading →


2
Feb 17

IRS: Scam Blends CEO Fraud, W-2 Phishing

Most regular readers here are familiar with CEO fraud — e-mail scams in which the attacker spoofs the boss and tricks an employee at the organization into wiring funds to the fraudster. Loyal readers also have heard an earful about W-2 phishing, in which crooks impersonate the boss and request a copy of all employee tax forms. According to a new “urgent alert” issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, scammers are now combining both schemes and targeting a far broader range of organizations than ever before.

athookThe IRS said phishers are off to a much earlier start this year than in tax years past, trying to siphon W-2 data that can be used to file fraudulent refund requests on behalf of taxpayers. The agency warned that thieves also appear to be targeting a wider range of organizations in these W-2 phishing schemes, including school districts, healthcare organizations, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, tribal organizations and nonprofits.

Perhaps because they are already impersonating the boss, the W-2 phishers feel like they’re leaving money on the table if they don’t also try to loot the victim organization’s treasury: According to the IRS, W-2 phishers very often now follow up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller requesting that a wire transfer be made to a certain account.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been keeping a running tally of the financial devastation visited on companies via CEO fraud scams. In June 2016, the FBI estimated that crooks had stolen nearly $3.1 billion from more than 22,000 victims of these wire fraud schemes.

First surfacing in February 2016, the W-2 phishing scams also have netted thieves plenty of victims. At one point last year I was hearing from almost one new W-2 phishing victim each day. Some of the more prominent companies victimized by W-2 scams last year included Seagate Technology, Moneytree, Sprouts Farmer’s Market, and EWTN Global Catholic Network. Continue reading →