It's tax scamming season

During tax time, a phone call or e-mail claiming to be from the IRS gets your attention. That's just what identity thieves are hoping.

Tax season not only brings worries about owing money and audits. It also brings identity thieves working overtime to steal your information.

The scams typically involve e-mails or phone calls claiming the taxpayer is owed more money than expected. The caller or e-mailer asks for personal or credit card information, or asks possible victims to fill out forms.

"Whether you get a phone call or an e-mail, and it says IRS, it grabs your attention," said David D. Stewart, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service in Philadelphia. "It might set you a little bit off guard. That's all they need to start getting you hooked."

Stewart said the IRS never sends unsolicited e-mails and won't ask for personal information over the telephone.

"If it's an e-mail, it's not from the IRS," Stewart said. "We don't send them out. If it's a phone call or anything else, we never will ask for that kind of personal identification information. It's just not going to happen."

Scammers have gotten more sophisticated, Stewart said. E-mails use graphics lifted from the IRS's Web site, and reference current events, such as the economic stimulus package passed by Congress.

The most popular tax-related scams are:

Rebate phone call. Consumers receive a phone call from someone identifying himself as an IRS employee. He tells the targeted person he or she is eligible for a rebate for filing early and asks for bank account information for direct deposit.

Refund e-mail. There are several variations, but the e-mails claim the recipient is eligible for a tax refund and instructs the person to click on a link in the e-mail to access a refund claim form. The form asks the recipient to enter personal information.

Audit e-mail. The e-mail notifies the recipient that his or her tax return will be audited. It may address the recipient by name, and asks the recipient to fill out online forms.

Changes to tax law e-mail. Usually addressed to businesses or accountants, these e-mails ask the recipient to download information on tax law changes. The download actually contains software that can track passwords and steal personal information.

Paper check phone call. A caller claims to be an IRS employee who is calling because the IRS sent a check to the individual being called. The caller states that because the check has not been cashed, the IRS wants to verify the individual's bank account number.

Stewart said the best defense against scammers is education.

"The best way to stop them is to inform the public that we don't send out e-mails, we don't ask for passwords and pins and credit card numbers and the security code off the back of your credit card," He said. "Education is really the best way to stop these people."

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