Tax return time dangerous for personal info

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

It's that time of the year we all dread.

Collect the W-2s and other financial records and start filling out your 1040 -- 1040EZ if you're lucky.

It can be a dangerous time of year if you're fooled by a scammer -- all that personal information is easy picking for someone who wants to steal your identity if they can only gain your confidence long enough to take it.

One of the most common tactics is a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and demanding money. As many as 12,000 calls are reported each week, most of them starting with a claim that they're the IRS and threatening that you'll immediately be thrown in jail if you don't send in some money.

Sometimes it works. The Treasury Department has received nearly 900,000 reports of IRS scam calls since October 2013, and at least 5,000 victims have paid out more than $26.5 million dollars.

If the first you hear from the IRS is a phone call, it's definitely a scammer. If you actually do owe money, you'll be contacted by mail first.

If you do receive such a call, just hang up and don't give out any information, and don't respond to urgent phone messages, if one is left.

If you do stay on the line, you'll probably be asked to wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram -- absolutely do not do that.

According to the IRS, it will never: 1) call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill; 2) demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe; 3) require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card; 4) ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or 5) threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

But phone calls are only one of the most common form of attempted IRS scams.

The agency lists some other new ones:

* Tax preparer phishing scam -- a bogus email asks tax professionals to update their IRS e-services portal information and Electronic Filing Identification Numbers. The links provided are actually a phishing scheme designed to capture the professional's username and password.

* Tax payer phishing scam -- a similar email appears to be from the IRS and includes a link to a bogus web site that looks like the official ARS site. These emails contain the direction "you are to update our IRS e-file immediately." They mention USA.gov and IRSgov (without a dot between "IRS" and "gov"); don't respond and don't get scammed.

We even received a new one in the office this morning, a "Tax Exemption Notification" with what looks to be a legitimate tax form, but with a bogus telephone number and email address where the information should be sent.

So, while you're taking pains to make sure your income tax returns are filed correctly, make sure the information they contain is going to the IRS and not some identity thief.

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