As tax filing season swings into a feverish pitch, rest assured that criminals are also working hard on the Internet and over the phone to steal your personal information.
And don’t think for one minute that college students or other young tax filers in your family are immune from scams.
While members of the Internet generation may be computer savvy, they also are inviting targets because most have little or no experience with filing tax returns. All it takes is biting on an email claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service or a bogus tax preparation firm promising fatter refunds and faster returns.
To head off problems, some colleges around the country have made a visible effort to alert students about seasonal tax scams. One of the schools, Park University in Parkville, recently sent out an email alert to students. The email carried this can’t miss headline: “IRS and Tax Return Phishing Scams.”
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“With tax fraud, the (trend) is pretty shocking,” said David Whittaker, chief information officer at Park University. “That’s why we’re big on education and awareness.”
The IRS said it is not aware of any tax scams particularly targeting college students, but young adults certainly have been among the victims in recent years along with senior citizens and people from low-income households.
Over the last two years, for example, regulators have received nearly 900,000 complaints involving various tax refund scams, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Of those complaints, crooks have stolen about $26.5 million from about 5,000 victims, the Treasury said.
In one common scenario, a taxpayer will receive an email that appears to be from the IRS. The email includes a link to a bogus website intended to mirror the agency’s official site. Taxpayers are then directed to update their personal information on their electronic tax return.
For the record, the IRS does not request personal information through email.
To avoid being caught up in scams, be wary of the following:
▪ Internet solicitations that direct you to toll-free numbers and then solicit your Social Security number.
▪ Unsolicited offers to prepare a tax return and split the refund.
▪ Unfamiliar tax services offering fast refunds — for a fee.
▪ False claims for refunds based on educational tax credits or other reasons.
The IRS says the best way to avoid scams is to file early and electronically using the official IRS website. That way, at the very least, you’re cutting down on a thief’s window of opportunity to steal your data and your refund.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879