updated 3/30/2011 9:19:12 AM ET 2011-03-30T13:19:12

Cybercriminals have unleashed a scam designed to exploit people eagerly awaiting approval regarding their online tax returns.

The rogue e-mails, which claim to be from the IRS, read, "Your Federal Tax Payment has been rejected," the security firm AppRiver reported. Recipients are directed to click on an attached link for more information, but doing so causes a piece of malicious software to run.

The dangerous malware is a variant of the Zeus Trojan, which for more than a year has been deployed by online thieves to steal banking information from users’ computers and mobile phones.

While cybercriminals often take advantage of hot topics to spread their scams, this particular tax virus is especially menacing because of its timing.

Because the U.S. government waited to extend tax cuts until the end of 2010, a significant portion of people claiming certain deductions had their online tax returns held by their online tax preparation companies such as TurboTax and H&R Block until Feb. 14.

"Millions of Americans are likely expecting to hear whether or not their tax return has been accepted or rejected via e-mail within the next 48-hour period, so this attack could really not be better timed," AppRiver wrote.

People who receive this e-mail message are urged to ignore it, as the IRS does not request personal information via unsolicited e-mail.

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