It's no secret that tax filing season is tax scam season.
It starts in January as the first group of taxpayers, eager for their refunds, flood Internal Revenue Service offices with their returns.
And as the Internal Revenue Service's annual list of the Dirty Dozen tax scams underscores, crooks employ many creative schemes to steal our identities and our tax dollars.
So it worth repeating in today's Daily Tax Tip to be careful out there as you file your return or wait for your refund.
In fact, the IRS last week announced a new tax scam in which identity thieves are pretending to be from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS.
As someone who worked with the IRS and TAS as part of the volunteer Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, I find this new scam incredibly despicable. TAS is an independent organization within the IRS created to help taxpayers resolve tax problems.
The Taxpayer Advocate's office is full of folks dedicated to making taxpayers' lives easier. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson and her staff across the United States have worked long and hard to make sure that everyone knows they are there to help.
The use of this good reputation for criminal purposes really pisses me off. Yes, I am taking this one personally.
New tactic, classic crime: The phishing email says,
"Your reported 2013 income is flagged for review due to a document processing error. Your case has been forwarded to the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance. To avoid delays processing your 2013 filing contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance."
In classic phishing form, it then offers a fabricated case number and a link to contact information for the fake advocate assigned to the case.
Following the link will take you to a fraudulent website that solicits personal information including names, contact information and income details.
Don't take the bait: Again, the real Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS and I cannot say it enough. Never click on a link in an email purporting to be from the tax agency or, as in this case, associated offices.
The IRS' initial contact with questions about a tax account arrives the old-fashioned way, as a written notice sent via the U.S. Postal Service.
If you do get suspicious tax-related email, do not click on any links (yep, repeating again) and forward the full email to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The IRS also offers more suggestions at its special Web page on phishing scams and how to handle them.
Major phone scam alert, too: The Taxpayer Advocate phishing scam comes on the heels of a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, of the "largest ever" telephone tax scam.
The IRS announced the phone scam, in which crooks pretend to be IRS agents trying to collect via debit cards or wire transfers, last November.
But, as I noted last week at my other tax blog, too many taxpayers didn't get or heed the warning.
"This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen," said Inspector General J. Russell George, noting that to date his office has received reports of more than 20,000 scam calls. Even worse, the crooks have stolen more than $1 million from duped taxpayers.
Also at Bankrate Taxes Blog last week, I examined recent U.S. Census Bureau's tax collection data that indicate the economy is improving.
My Bankrate tax thoughts typically are posted each Tuesday and Thursday. If you happen to miss them then and there, you can always find a bit about them, plus links, here the following weekend.
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