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Avoid scam headaches during tax season

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We all get busy during tax season — and that includes the thieves who specialize in taking your money. While you’re working to get all of your information in order to file your taxes, it’s important to be on the lookout for scams designed to get your personal information or rob you of your refund.

There are a few different types of tax-related scams that tend to increase in these months. In the IRS phone scam, scammers will contact you claiming to be from the IRS, Treasury Department or a law enforcement agency and tell you that you owe back taxes. They may threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay off the amount you owe immediately. Often, they’ll ask you to pay by purchasing prepaid gift cards, or through money orders or wire transfers. We know of 15 victims in North Carolina who lost $120,730 to IRS scams in 2017.

Remember that the IRS will never call you to demand immediate payment of taxes owed, and they won’t threaten to send law enforcement to your house. When there’s an actual issue with the IRS, you can always verify by contacting the IRS directly. You’ll have the chance to question the issue and get additional information. And you will never be asked to pay via prepaid or gift cards. These scammers are trying to scare you into making a fast, bad decision. Don’t let panic dictate what you do.

If you want assistance preparing your taxes, there are a few free assistance options you can turn to. You can use the IRS Free File software if you make $66,000 or less. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is also available at all branches of the State Employees’ Credit Union and Local Government Federal Credit Union. If you’re going to pay a tax preparer to help with your taxes, do your research beforehand. The N.C. Department of Justice received 34 consumer complaints in 2017 about tax preparers and we’ve already received another four this year.

Call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM and your local Better Business Bureau to make sure consumers haven’t raised concerns about the preparer. Shop around to find the best costs and services. Read your contract and review your tax paperwork and returns carefully throughout the process.

When you’re preparing to file your taxes you’ll be handling a lot of your sensitive personal and financial information. Be careful to protect it. Don’t email your Social Security number or other confidential information to an accountant or tax preparer because emails are easy to hack. If you’re filing your taxes online, make sure the website is secure — look for the green lock icon next to the URL. If tax thieves get their hands on your personal information, they might steal your identity, file taxes in your name and pocket the refunds.

If you ever receive a notice from the IRS stating that more than one tax return was filed in your name (yours and a scammer’s), respond immediately to the contact person on the letter. You’ll also need to fill out the Identity Theft Affidavit form.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a tax scam, you can report it to NCDOJ by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint online. You should also file a report with the real IRS and may also want to reach out to local law enforcement.

Tax season can be stressful. Watch out for people who are trying to add another headache. Take precautions to stop them from stealing your information and your money.

Josh Stein is the attorney general of North Carolina and head of the N.C. Department of Justice.

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