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3 scary tax scams that are spreading like wildfire

Tax season is a busy time for scammers, hackers and other criminals. Billions of dollars are shuffling around between individuals, financial institutions and the government, and if criminals can even snag a fraction of it, they'll be rich.

That's why you can expect to encounter one or more scams in the next two months meant to steal your information or money. Criminals have a whole bunch of tricks, so even if you avoid one, you might get fooled by another if you aren't careful. That's why we're going to tell you what scams are big right now and what you need to look for.

1. Phone scams

Far and away the most popular scam of any kind is the phone scam. Many people are on guard against scams on their computer, but they tend to be more trusting of people who call. Scammers make it even more believable by spoofing caller ID to say "IRS" or to show a legitimate IRS number.

When you get the call, the "IRS agent" on the other end will claim that you have unpaid taxes. If you don't send them the money via wire transfer or prepaid debit card right away, they'll have the police arrest you.

In another variation, they might say that you have a refund you didn't know about and they need your bank account information to transfer the money. They might ask you to provide your Social Security number and other sensitive information to prove you're the right person.

The prospects of going to jail or getting more money are enough to fool every typically cautious person, especially when the IRS is involved. Fortunately, there are five ways you know that these calls are fake.

  1. The IRS will mail you an official bill on government stationery before it calls. If you do get a call, it shouldn't be a surprise.
  2. You can question or appeal the amount you owe before paying. There's no reason to rush.
  3. The IRS won't ask you to use a certain type of payment, such as insisting you use a wire transfer.
  4. The IRS won't ask for payment information over the phone or any other sensitive information.
  5. The IRS won't threaten to have the local police come and arrest you for not paying.

If you do get a call from the "IRS" out of the blue, it's probably a scam. If you feel pressured to take action of some kind, it's definitely a scam.

If you aren't sure, get the name of the person who called you, and the branch they're calling from. You can also ask if there's a reference number for your case. Then go look up the phone number for that IRS office and call it directly. That should set the matter straight very quickly.

Unfortunately, that's not the only way criminals come after you.

Next page: Two more scams and another danger you need to know about
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