As tax season winds down and Tax Day approaches, scam artists shift into high gear.
The Internal Revenue Service has issued its annual "Dirty Dozen" list of common scams that start to peak this time of year. Here are some of the highlights:
Identify theft: This can happen when someone gains access to, say, your Social Security number and uses it to file a false tax return and then claim a refund. To protect your number, give it out sparingly, don't carry your card with you and periodically request a copy of your credit report to track misuse. In its stepped-up efforts to find scammers, the IRS says it prevented $20 billion in fraudulent refunds from being issued in 2012.
Phishing: If you're getting unsolicited emails that look like they are from the IRS asking for your personal information, beware. The IRS does not contact taxpayers by email for such purposes, so keep your personal information to yourself. If you suspect a phishing scam, send the email or website to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preparer fraud: If you're one of the 60 percent of Americans using a tax preparer, do a thorough background check. Make sure the person has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), review qualifications and history, and avoid preparers who bill based on how much you get in a refund. Also, never sign a blank return.
"Free Money" fliers: Ads for free money from the IRS have been popping up in churches around the country, and word spreads. Be skeptical of claims involving Social Security rebates or refunds based on education tax credits when you haven't been a student for years.
Coming up tomorrow: Tips on tax software and e-filing.
Countdown to April 15, last-minute tips
Haven't filed your taxes yet? Check out The Tribune's Countdown to Tax Day series with information that can help as the deadline approaches:
April 4 • Where to get free help
Today • How to avoid tax scams
Saturday • The joys of filing electronically
Sunday • What's the Earned Income Tax Credit?
April 9 • Don't miss out on the Child and Dependent Care Credit
April 10 • Understand your taxes if you're self-employed
April 11 • Watch out for fees when paying taxes by credit card
April 12 • Reduce your taxes by saving for retirement
April 13 • Use the Taxpayer Advocate when tackling the IRS
April 14 • Don't ignore your taxes; file an extension to get more time