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In the long list of Adult Things That Aren't Fun, filing your taxes is pretty close to the top. Even worse is getting ripped off in a tax scam.
If you want to safeguard your money — and your identity — here are three rules to remember:
1. Hang up on fraudsters
The Internal Revenue Service is never going to call you and demand money. An IRS agent is never going start an inquiry via email, text message or social media. In most cases, if the IRS wants to contact you about your taxes, you'll get a letter in the mail. (If you've ignored several mail notices, you might get a call or an in-person visit.)
The IRS isn't going to ask you to pay an obligation with a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer, either. Nor will the agency threaten to call the police and drag you off to jail, or suspend your driver's license, or deport you. If you owe taxes, the IRS will tell you to make payments to the United States Treasury.
And if you get a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent and threatening to suspend your Social Security number, hang up. The IRS doesn't do that, either.
Through the April 15 deadline to file, check for weekly tax updates and handy resources
2. Guard your Social Security number
If con artists get your nine-digit number and other personal information, such as your address, they can file fake tax returns and seek a refund. You'll discover the fraud when you try to file an electronic return and it's kicked back, or if the IRS flags your paper return and sends you a letter.
Your best protection against filing fraud: File your taxes early. If the IRS sends you a letter stating your return already has been filed, call the phone number on the letter. You should complete and file Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Check with your state tax agency to see if the fraudsters have filed a state tax return as well. Finally, contact the three credit reporting bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — and have them put a fraud alert on your file.
3. Beware of ghosts
Professional tax preparers have a preparer tax identification number, or PTIN, and they sign your return. Ghost preparers, who are not authorized to complete or file returns, won't sign your return. They sometimes promise big refunds or charge you a percentage of your expected refund. In the worst case, they might divert refunds to their own accounts. If you hire a tax preparer, check his or her credentials with the online IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.
Get more information
The IRS has launched Identity Theft Central, an online resource that explains how to report identity theft and protect yourself from online scams and phishing attacks. (Phishing emails, calls, texts and letters try to trick you into sending cash or disclosing personal information. Some phishing attacks aim to let a fraudster infiltrate your computer and steal information). The site also contains information for businesses and tax professionals.