We're looking at a bumper crop of online frauds, cons, ID thefts, and check stealing this year. Some of them can steal your returns, others cost you your life savings or money you have not even begun to earn. As your W-2s come in, here are some simple pointers to remember about filing and online opportunities as well as methods for avoiding theft of multiple kinds.
- First and most important - the IRS will never email you. Ever. If you get an email from the IRS or EFTPS (Electronic Federal Tax Payment System), forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and do not respond!
- Beware fake Tax preparation companies. Never enter information online unless you see HTTPS: or a green bar in the URL, and look for the Preparer Tax identification Number (PTIN) on your return. You should always receive a copy of your tax return, and a reputable tax service should never do your taxes for a percentage of the refund.
- Phishing requests via email are everywhere. If anyone requests an unusual amount of personal and/or financial information, such as name, SSN, bank or credit card account numbers or security-related information, such as mother’s maiden name, either in the e-mail itself or on another site to which a link in the e-mail sends you to, be suspicious. Warning: Email threats about consequences for failing to respond or blocking access to your funds are always frauds.
- Look for really long address links contained in the e-mail message or one that does not start with the actual IRS Web site address (http://www.irs.gov). The actual link’s address, or url, is revealed by moving the mouse over the link included in the text of the e-mail. The IRS will also never call you on the telephone.
- Beware .pdf files emailed to you from anyone that claims to represent or communicate changes in tax law. Just go to www.irs.gov to research changes, or talk to your real life accountant or tax preparer.
- Your postal mail is not the safe way to receive checks from the IRS. Be aware that there are people that cruise the street in neighborhoods with unlocked mailboxes at tax time to steal tax return envelopes. Electronic depositing and filing can be safer, but don't get your return on a debit card. Go with direct deposit whenever you can.
- Protect your computer. If you plan to file your taxes online, be sure you have current anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall protection installed. TurboTax, H&R Block and other reputable tax services always use encrypted transmission. Keep in mind that the most lucrative tax return schemes are based on ID Theft. Make sure you protect your side of the filing!