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You aren’t the only one looking forward to your tax refund this year.  Crooks want to get paid too.  The best way to keep their hands off your money is to learn their tricks so you don’t fall prey.  Bear in mind, the IRS doesn’t initiate contact by email, text messages or social media.  They prefer to keep it old school and send a letter through the United States Postal Service.

It’s not the IRS calling

Received a call from the IRS?  Don’t let your caller ID fool you, it’s probably not the IRS on the other end of the line.  Callers impersonating the IRS have been contacting taxpayers demanding immediate payment for bogus tax bills.  They’ll even throw out a fake name and badge number to really sell it.  While the IRS doesn’t have a preferred payment method, scammers do.  Their favorites include but aren’t limited to iTunes gift cards, MoneyGram and Western Union.  If you refuse to pay up, they’ll become increasingly aggressive and threaten to have you arrested, deported or have your license suspended.  Immigrants and senior citizens were the original targets but scammers have recently set their sights on college students.  Back in August, the IRS warned students and parents to keep an eye out for scammers demanding payment for a non-existent “Federal Student Tax”.

As much as the IRS wants to collect their money, they also want to be fair.  The first step in their real process is to always send a notice in the mail.  Not to your email address but to your physical residence.  Your notice will explain the reason behind the correspondence and what to do next.  Rather than seeking immediate payment, you will be given the opportunity to ask questions or appeal the amount due.  The IRS will never ask for your credit or debit card information over the phone.  If you receive a call and know for a fact that you don’t owe the IRS, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or at tigta.gov.

Stay out of the phishers net

During the 2016 tax season, the IRS saw a 400% increase in phishing and malware cases.  Phishing occurs when fraudsters impersonate legitimate businesses to trick you into revealing personal information.  In this case, they’ll pretend to be the IRS or a well-known tax company.  The emails usually ask that you confirm or provide specific information or risk losing your account.  When you click any of the enclosed links, you’ll be taken to a spoof site where any information you enter will be stolen.  At first glance, the site may look like the real deal but it’s not.  If you have reason to believe there’s an issue with your account, open a new browser and type in the company’s URL yourself to contact customer service.  If it’s confirmed that the email was a hoax, the FTC recommends forwarding the message to spam@uce.gov.

The best way to avoid being caught in a phishers net is to practice good online safety habits.  Install security software on your computer and set it to automatically update so any malicious attacks can be detected right away.  As much as we all love to shop and bank online, it isn’t always the safest option.  Before entering your personal information on any website, check to see if the URL begins with https.  The “s” lets you know a site is secure.  Finally, exercise caution when opening and downloading email attachments even if you know the sender.  You never know whose account has been hacked or infected by malware and you don’t want to find out the hard way.