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Tax Identity Theft Scams: What They Are And How To Spot Them

It's tax season. Most Americans must file income taxes between now and April 15th. You know it. Identity thieves know it, too.

The California Attorney General's office warned Californians to beware of phishing e-mails. The advice is good for consumers across the United States. Criminals send out official-looking e-mails that appear to be from the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or from your state tax agency. The e-mails are bogus, and an attempt to trick consumers into revealing sensitive personal and financial information. Some criminals make bogus phone calls.

How to protect yourself and spot these scams:

  1. Beware of unsolicited phone calls, emails or texts from anyone claiming to be from the IRS or tax agency in your state (example: the California Franchise Tax Board). If you aren't sure, contact the agency to verify the e-mail.
  2. Never open an email or a text message that says it is from the IRS or your state's tax agency. They are usually fraudulent. In California, the Franchise Tax Board never initiates contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media to request personal or financial information. Not does it send e-mail/text messages about audits or refunds.
  3. When preparing your tax returns to file online, use strong passwords (e.g., letters, numbers, and special characters). Use a unique password and not the same password you use for e-mail or social networking accounts.
  4. For more security than just a username and password, consider using: a) an Identity Protection PIN number (IP PIN) for e-filing returns with the IRS; and/or b) two-step authentication. Two-step authentication is available with many tax agencies and social networking sites. Basically, the process includes a code that is sent via e-mail or text message. You enter that code plus your username and password when signing into your online account.

In some instances, criminals will file fraudulent tax returns using your information. Why? To get and cash a large refund check. If this happens to you, the California Attorney general recommends that victims:

"If you think you have a tax identity theft problem or receive a letter from the IRS or the FTB stating that someone has already filed using your information, contact the agency."

The IRS maintains a list of state agency and tax websites for all states. The California Attorney General's office provided the following tax identity-theft resources:

AgencyResources
Internal Revenue Service

Identity theft:  www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection, www.irs.gov/Individuals/Indications-your-identity-may-have-been-stolen-and-how-to-report-it-to-us. 1-800-908-4490

Tax scams: www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts 

Identity Protection PIN: www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-An-Identity-Protection-PIN

California Franchise Tax Board

Identity theft: www.ftb.ca.gov/individuals/id_theft.shtml  

ID Theft Resolution Coordinator Web information: 916-845-3669

California Attorney General

Identity theft:  www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection, www.irs.gov/Individuals/Indications-your-identity-m

Identity Theft Protection and First Aid: www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft

Another good resource for consumers is the Identity Theft Resource Center. The site contains state-specific identity-theft information for consumers, and a page with tips for avoiding tax identity theft.

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