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Fraud Tips for Tax Season

Thursday, April 5, 2018

It seems like scammers come up with new and more sophisticated ways to take advantage of people every year. The Minnesota Department of Commerce and the International Revenue Service (IRS) are warning consumers to be especially vigilant during tax season. Here are some tips to stay one-step ahead of the bad guys.

File your taxes early. The latest scams involve the fraudster filing fake tax returns with stolen identity information. Be on the lookout for unusual activity in your bank account. If you haven't filed your return yet, but there's a bank deposit from the IRS, that's a red flag.

Another trick cheaters use is to act as a phony agent calling to say you owe money and demand payment right away. One telltale sign is if the person demanding money tells you to send a pre-paid cash card. Other con artists will lie and say they owe you a refund. The thieves ask for bank account information over the phone to "make the deposit." IRS employees will not call you demanding an immediate payment, nor will they ask for your personal information over the phone.

Trust, but verify. Say "no" to anyone who presses you to make a quick decision about hiring a tax preparer. Scammers may use flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts or word of mouth to attract victims. They may even make presentations through community groups or churches. Look for credentials using the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials.

Learn to recognize phishing emails, calls or texts. The messages appear to come from familiar organizations like banks, credit card companies or even the IRS. These ruses generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers. One way they do this is by saying there is an urgent problem with your account and that you must click an email link to log in and verify your details.

If in doubt, open a new browser window and access your account the way you always do or call the company on the phone. If you doubt a caller's legitimacy, tell them you'll call them back through the company's main public line.

When the IRS needs to get in touch with a taxpayer, standard practice is to send a letter via the US Postal Service. If you receive an unexpected and suspicious email from the IRS, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

Safeguard Personal Data in Daily, Online Activity

Always protect your Social Security number. Provide it only when necessary. Occasionally businesses will request it when it is not essential. You have every right to question why it is needed and ask to be identified using a different method.

Verify that any website you use to conduct banking or pay bills is encrypted. Look for padlock symbol and "https" at the beginning of a web address (the "s" stands for secure) and be sure "https" is on every page of the site.

For a more extensive list of circulating scams and frauds, visit www.usa.gov.

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