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Online Tax Scams to Guard Against

Scammers are out in force as the tax filing deadline approaches. Here are some of the most common scams to be on the lookout for.

Most people may hate the tax filing season but scam artists are licking their lips in anticipation of this time of year.

Scammers are out in force as the tax filing deadline approaches. Here are some of the most common scams to be on the lookout for:

Filing false tax returns

The Internal Revenue Service's online filing system is convenient for taxpayers -- and for scammers, too. Once a bandit clips your Social Security number, they can file a bogus return and divert the refund to their debit card or post office box. That leaves you having to explain to the IRS why you shouldn't be arrested for tax fraud.

Promising refunds

Because the tax code is so complex and changes from year to year, scam artists can make plausible pitches that promise to deliver money to you from the federal treasury for a credit you never heard of. For example, one swindle involves the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The credit is designed to help families pay for current college expenses. Scam artists are telling unwary targets that the credit applies to college expenses incurred at any time in their lives or even for taxes paid on groceries.

IRS correspondence

For many Americans, tangling with the IRS has all the allure of major dental surgery. If the IRS sends an e-mail asking for information that can be used to empty a person's bank accounts or steal their identity, most people will turn it over and sigh with relief that that's all the IRS wants from them. Phishers are aware of those attitudes, which is why they craft e-mails pretending to be from the IRS soliciting that kind of information. Sometimes, they include attachments with those mails, too, which can plant nasty software on a recipient's computer, or links that can accomplish the same thing.

Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of tax fraudsters:

  • Ignore all e-mail from the IRS. The agency doesn't contact taxpayers through e-mail about tax refunds or tax payments. Neither does it request banking and Social Security information via e-mail. On the other hand, scammers do. Suspicious e-mail can be forwarded to the IRS at [email protected]
  • Send all unsolicited offers for tax services to the trash bin, and whatever you do, never click on attachments in blind solicitations.
  • Keep your security software up to date. A good Internet security suite can provide you with a second layer of defense should your first layer -- common sense and skepticism -- be penetrated.
  • Choose your tax preparer carefully. Remember that someone who prepares your taxes has all the information they need to steal your identity, too.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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