The 2013 tax filing season opens on Jan. 31, but it's not just the IRS that is ready for your returns -- so are scammers.
Tax-related scams are becoming more popular and complicated, making it hard for filers to stay protected. The IRS offers the following warnings to help spot potential fraud and reduce your exposure:
- Be wary of any unexpected communications claiming to be from the IRS at the start of tax season. If you receive any tax notices, take them to the person who prepared your income tax return to determine their validity and to create a necessary course of action if the notice is legitimate.
- Don't talk to anyone claiming to be from the IRS on the phone. The agency will not call you on the phone. Identity thieves will pose as IRS collection personnel or a customer service representative offering you a refund -- all you need to do is provide your personal information. Don't fall for it.
- The IRS does not send emails to taxpayers. Never! If you receive an email supposedly from the IRS forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. And do not open any attachments.
- The IRS will never ask you for your bank account PIN number, passwords or other similar confidential information such as mother's maiden name for bank accounts or credit card accounts.
- Don't carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Keep them stored in a safe place away from the eyes of others
- Don't give a business your Social Security number or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required. If you are self-employed providing services to other businesses, you may be required to provide this information on IRS Form W9 for 1099 purposes. For this reason, it may be prudent to apply for a Federal ID number to further ensure the security of your Social Security number.
- Secure personal information in your home in a safe place.
- Check your credit report every 12 months to make sure there's no unusual activity or illegitimate credit lines.
- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don't give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact and are sure of the recipient.
- Be careful when you choose a tax preparer. Most preparers provide excellent service, but there are a few who are unscrupulous. Refer to Tips to Help you Choose a Tax Preparer for more details.
Bonnie Lee is an Enrolled Agent admitted to practice and representing taxpayers in all fifty states at all levels within the Internal Revenue Service. She is the owner of Taxpertise in Sonoma, Calif., and the author of Entrepreneur Press book, "Taxpertise, The Complete Book of Dirty Little Secrets and Hidden Deductions for Small Business that the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know." Follow Bonnie Lee on Twitter at BLTaxpertise and on Facebook.