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Don't fall for tax scams

Criminals work 24/7 but tax season offers them special opportunities.

Hackers take advantage of people's concern about taxes, sending phishing emails in attempts to capture personal financial information.

Sometimes the con artists ask for the data directly. Other times they direct folks to fake websites, where malicious spyware or malware is loaded onto victims' personal computers.

Tax scams typically take two forms.

Tax scam warning First, there's the fear factor. Individuals are told by emailers purporting to be from the IRS that there's a problem with the taxpayer's return.

Just reply, say the fake IRS reps, by sending your bank account and/or Social Security numbers and the issue will be taken care of and your refund will be on its way.

Then there's the reward route. A regular tax ruse tells taxpayers they're due more refund money than they they figured. The fake IRS emailer offers to send it straight to your bank, again as long as you share a few pieces of critical financial information.

This year one phishing scheme even offered free tax filing help. Just "click here," it encouraged, to go to the ostensibly no-cost tax preparation website. But the cost will be great if you fall for the fake offer.

You don't need an email to find free tax filing help. There are lots of reputable offers, including the IRS' annual Free File program.

Don't be a victim: You'd think by now that we'd be past this. That folks understand that technology is an easy avenue for crooks looking to steal identities.

But enough taxpayers fall for scams to keep criminals in business.

You can avoid becoming a victim by remembering a few things.

First, the IRS never contacts taxpayers by email.

It definitely doesn't request detailed personal information that way.

And the IRS doesn't send any communication requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

Dealing with fake tax communications: The IRS has systems in place to deal with tax scam attempts.

If you get a phishing email claiming to be from the IRS:

  • Do not reply.
  • Do not open any attachments. Attachments could contain code that will infect your computer.
  • Do not click on any links. They could take you to a website designed to download programs to give criminals access to your computer and all the financial sites that your visit.

Then forward the email to the the IRS at phishing@irs.gov and delete the message from your in-box.

Be wary of websites purportedly operated by or affiliated with the IRS. Uncle Sam has one tax website; it's IRS.gov.

If you find a site with another URL that claims to be the IRS, send the fake URL to phishing@irs.gov. Type "Suspicious website" in your email's subject line.

Finally, if you do get a phone call or written correspondence via the Postal Service claiming to be the IRS, but you're unsure about the contact, take time to verify it.

If the contact is a phone call:

  1. Ask for a call-back number and employee badge number.
  2. Then contact the IRS at one of its official numbers (not the call-back number) to determine if the caller is indeed an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you.
  3. If the original caller checks out, you can then call him or her back.

If the contact is a snail mailed letter or notice:

  1. Contact the IRS to determine if the correspondence is legitimate.
  2. If it is, reply if instructed to so so.
  3. If it's not really from the IRS, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.

The key at tax time and throughout the year is to be skeptical of any unsolicited communication

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