Be alert to tax scams

During tax season, even the most organized and careful among us can feel an extra sense of pressure to ensure the necessary forms are filled out correctly and on time. And that's exactly when scammers like to strike: when your mind is preoccupied with other things.

But by knowing that scams can happen during tax time (or any time, unfortunately), you can remember to take a deep breath and pause to think clearly if one of these situations happens to you.

Callers pretending to be from the IRS

The IRS has seen an increase in phone scams in which the callers say they are from the IRS and tell the victim they are either entitled to a large refund or that they owe money. The callers ask for personal information to "send the refund" (only to steal the victim's information to commit identity theft). For scams that try to steal money "owed," the caller may threaten arrest or a driver's license revocation if personal information or payment is not supplied. Sophisticated operations may even have a follow-up call from the "police" or "motor vehicle department" - a false caller ID may even support this claim.

If you get a call claiming to be from the IRS, do not give out personal information such as your Social Security number or financial account details. Call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 to see if there really is a payment issue.

Phishing

A phishing scam attempts to hook the victim through an unsolicited email or website link that takes the reader to a phony website requesting personal information. The email and/or website may look legitimate, but the IRS will never contact taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This also includes text messages or social media channels. Do not reply or click on links if you receive an email or text message claiming to be from the IRS.

Identity theft

If a thief obtains your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number or other identifying information, they could try to use your identity to file a tax return and claim a refund. Guard your personal information at all times. Some homeowner policies include identity theft services. Speak with your agent for more detail. If you suspect your tax account could be at risk, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

Return preparer fraud

Most tax preparers provide honest service, but choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to help you prepare your return. A dishonest preparer could be out to commit refund fraud or identity theft. Only use preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers.

Stay on guard

The IRS has several resources to help taxpayers with tax return questions as well as preventing and reporting fraud. Visit IRS.gov and select the Help & Resources tab.

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