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Sorry, That 'Surprise' Tax Refund Is Actually a Scam

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As hardworking taxpayers, we all look forward to getting our tax returns. But in this year's scary new tax scam, thieves are trying to take advantage of all that excitement by attempting to steal our money — or even our identities — in the process, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In one of these ploys, scammers file a fake tax return and have the refund deposited into your bank account. The thieves then call you, and — posing as the IRS or debt collectors for the IRS — demand you return the money to the IRS. Of course, the money ends up going to the scam artists instead.

Sometimes, after getting this phony refund, victims may receive threats of criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant, and a "blacklisting" of your Social Security number. Don't fall for any of it; if you or anyone you love gets a "surprise" tax return, report it directly to the IRS so you can return it straight to the government agency.

Another new tax scam making the rounds involves imposters creating fake tax preparation sites and phone numbers to steal peoples' personal information. Folks most vulnerable to this one are those who go online to e-file a tax return and mistakenly click on a lookalike site created by scam artists. In the worst-case scenario, this could lead to your whole identity being stolen.

Brush up on the latest tips on how to avoid these horrible tax scams and more like it in the tips below, straight from the FTC.

How to Avoid Tax Scams

  1. File your tax return sooner rather than later during tax season, if at all possible.

  2. If you choose to file electronically, be sure your internet connection is secure. If you decide to mail your tax return, do so directly from the post office.

  3. If you use an online tax preparation service, be sure to spot the tax preparer's identification number. The IRS requires all paid tax preparers to have one.

  4. Be sure to look for "https" at the start of a web address for any online account you use for taxes. The "s" after "http" means that your page is encrypted — or secure — for you to use for important private info. If any part of your process isn't encrypted, your whole account could be vulnerable, so it's crucial that the "https" appears on every single page of your session (not just the sign-in page).

  5. Before you work with any tax preparer, be sure you ask about his or her data security policies, and about how they specifically protect your private information.

  6. If you get any mail from the IRS, be sure you respond as soon as you possibly can.

  7. If you suspect that you're a victim of identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report it to the FTC, file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS electronically, and get a personal recovery plan.

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