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Be Alert to Internet Scams During Tax Season


“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” — Oscar Wilde

One mistake you don’t want to make, though, is to fall victim to an Internet scam, which could lead to the loss of money or even your identity.

As surely as you are working hard to file your paperwork, Internet scam artists are working hard to defraud you by posing as the IRS. You should always be cautious about opening unsolicited e-mails, but during tax season, it’s easier to overlook a scam because you also expect to receive legitimate messages about your taxes.

Common Internet tax scams
To help you discern the “real” e-mails from the phony, here are three common scams to watch for:
  • Underreported income. Claiming to originate with the IRS, these e-mails allege that you have underreported income and that you can find out how much you owe by opening an attachment—but doing this downloads a virus. A virus can cripple your computer. In addition, many e-mail viruses replicate themselves when you open the viral attachment or read the e-mail and then send themselves to your contacts, who think the message is from you.
  • Refund. These e-mails promise quick and easy tax refunds—in exchange for information about you and your financial institution. If your social security number or other personal information gets into the hands of the wrong person, that person can do serious damage to your credit, which can take years—or even a lifetime—to repair.
  • Making work pay. These messages refer to reduced payroll taxes through a provision of the 2009 government stimulus package. They ask for personal information so the IRS can deposit money owed you into your bank account. The perpetrators here are fishing (or, phishing) for your identifiable information so they can do things like open credit lines in your name and access your bank and investment accounts.
Tips to help you avoid becoming a victim
  1. The IRS never discusses official tax matters over the Internet. Forward e-mails from senders posing as the IRS to phishing@irs.gov; then, delete the e-mails from your inbox.
  2. Don’t open attachments from unknown senders.
  3. Research a company or website before you submit personal information.
  4. Never give your social security number to an unknown source online.
  5. Visit the FBI website, www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/escams.htm, to learn whether the type of e-mail you received is a common cyber scam.
This information will help you avoid falling prey to Internet scams during tax season and throughout the year. You can always discuss any suspicious communications you receive with a trusted financial professional or tax advisor.

© 2010 Commonwealth Financial Network