(CBS News) Filing your taxes is one of the most intimate processes a person goes through every year, involving both personal and financial data. For this very reason, your return is a major target for scammers seeking to get access to this information. Identity theft is the most common tax scam -- 1.6 million taxpayers were affected by identity theft in the first 6 months of 2013 -- and there are a number of tactics used to perpetrate the theft. Here are some ways you can avoid falling prey to the tax cons this tax season.
First, if you come across ads or messages that are promising you "secret" loopholes, or free tax filing services, ignore them. The IRS has said that tax preparation fraud is coming back in a big way this year, so be careful when selecting someone to do your taxes. Many of these preparation scams work by obtaining an illegal refund for you. Often times the preparer will claim an imaginary child or deduct false business costs, forge your signature, and then simply steal all or part of that illegal money. A number of individuals were indicted in December 2013 for inflating costs on tax returns. Other scammers will simply steal your identity. The best way to avoid this fate? Find a reputable tax firm with good reviews from consumer protection databases rather than using service that sounds too good to be true.
In the same vein, do not use any firm or service that charges based upon the size of your return, or asks that you to have your refund deposited in their account. Always opt for direct deposit for your refund, if you get one. It is more secure, and you don't have to go to the bank.
Another sign you are being targeted by a tax scam? Receiving unexpected or unexplained communications from the IRS. Many scams try to hook victims by telling them they are owed a refund. A common scam this year uses an email that purports to be from the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. The message claims that your electronic payment did not go through, and then asks you to verify your tax and bank information. When you click on the link in the email, malware is downloaded to your computer. So make sure you ignore unsolicited emails and telephone calls claiming they are from the IRS.
The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by e-mail or text message, and certainly not through social media platforms. If you are called, decline to talk and instead contact the IRS immediately.
Finally, use common sense. Make sure you are protecting your information by keeping documents in safes, or in secured electronic files.
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