It’s February, six more weeks of winter with more snow on the way, and it’s time to start thinking about filing our taxes. That April magical date will be here before you know it.
There are always things we need to watch for. Just the letters strike fear and confusion in nearly everyone: IRS. And this is the time of year that almost no one I know likes, tax filing season.
No one, that is, except tax scammers! Scammers last year filed nearly 1.5 million fraudulent returns with the IRS. The scams are becoming more sophisticated and numerous.
So how do legitimate tax filers go about protecting themselves from being a victim of a fraudulent tax return or even identity theft?
Protect yourself with a healthy dose of wariness.
•Be wary of unexpected letter communications that appear to be from the IRS. Take the notice to your tax preparer, or contact the IRS directly, using a phone number from irs.gov to determine if it is legitimate. Never call the phone number on the letter; it may be a bogus number to a scammer posing as an IRS agent attempting to get your private information.
For example, a new phishing tax scam with this is making the rounds. The email includes a realistic looking (but bogus) IRS logo and falsely tells recipients that they are entitled to a refund of $63.80, stating “after the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $63.80.” The email directs the taxpayer to a bogus site, where the scammers ask for Social Security numbers, bank info and PIN numbers.
•The IRS will not call you on the phone, so never talk with anyone that claims to be a representative of the IRS. Thieves often use a popular tax scam where they offer you a refund if you furnish them with your personal information.
•The IRS never sends emails to taxpayers. Do not respond to emails or open any attachment from supposed IRS communications. Never!
•Scammers often ask for your bank account number, credit card or PIN number, mother’s maiden name, etc. Again, the IRS never requests this information, so do not give it out.
The IRS has issued tips to keep your personal information safe:
•Unless you are initiating contact and are certain of who you are communicating with, don’t give personal information over the phone, through snail mail, via email or over the Internet.
•Do not carry your Social Security card with you in your wallet or purse. For that matter, don’t carry any documents that may contain sensitive personal information. Keep these things in a safe location, preferably under lock and key.
•If you are self-employed and sell products or provide services to businesses, you are often asked for your Social Security number or ITIN for required W-9 or 1099 forms. Protect your Social Security number and ITIN by getting a Federal ID number instead. Do not give a business your Social Security number and ITIN just because they ask.
•It is wise to check your credit report at least every 12 months to make sure no one has stolen your identity by establishing fraudulent credit accounts.
•Secure your computers by establishing firewalls, keeping anti-spam and virus protection up to date and changing passwords for your Internet accounts.
•There are plenty of very dependable tax preparers to help you,, but before choosing one visit the IRS website for valuable tips at http://j.mp/1carZRf.
So now, sit back and enjoy the snow.
Cheryl Parson is President of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.