Phishers Pose as IRS Agents

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The Department of Labor says it is working to fix a programming glitch in a government Web portal that makes it easier for phishers to trick people into disclosing sensitive information. The flaw was first exploited by phishers who, earlier this week, began sending out bogus e-mail messages asking for personal information, including social security and credit card numbers.

The bug lets these phishers redirect URLs that use the GovBenefits.gov domain to fraudulent Web sites that are unconnected with the U.S. government.

Disguised as IRS

This redirecting flaw was first exploited just days ago by phishers masquerading as the Internal Revenue Service, said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with Sophos, a British security firm that has been researching the matter.

"The people behind GovBenefits.gov have implemented their software in such a way that leaves the Web site vulnerable to a phishing attack," he said. The technique is particularly effective because the link that users click on is, in fact, a genuine GovBenefits.gov link, he added.

The fraudulent e-mail claims to require the sensitive information in order to process a tax refund, and purportedly comes from tax refunds@irs.gov, the IRS said.

Scrambling for a Fix

The GovBenefits.gov Web site is used by 16 federal agencies, including the IRS, and is designed to help users determine their eligibility for government-funded benefit and assistance programs. It is maintained by the Department of Labor.

Though the site's redirect glitch is not common, Sophos has seen it before, usually made by programmers looking for a flexible way to move users around their Web sites, Cluley said. "It's a simple mistake to make, until you realize the consequences," he said. "They probably didn't see how it could be used."

The Department of Labor is working to fix the glitch and hopes to resolve the problem this week, a Labor Department spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the IRS published a statement Wednesday, warning users of the scam.

"What we want people to know is if you get an unsolicited e-mail that purports to be from the IRS and it's asking for personal information, that's bogus," said Eric Smith, an IRS spokesperson. "We're not going to request that you provide this kind of information by e-mail."

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