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It's that time of year when we either look forward to a tax refund or shake in our shoes over what we owe in income taxes. As a homeowner, you may even count on that refund to do a bit of remodeling this spring or summer. That means this is also the time of year to watch out for scammers — people calling, emailing, or even sending you fake paperwork with "official" looking logos at the top of the page, claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service.

Money TalkNews' Maryalene LaPonsie uncovered some of the most common tricks scammers use, so pay attention so you can avoid these attempts to steal your money.

If an IRS agent calls you or emails you and threatens you to pay up or you'll be hauled off to prison, you're talking to a scammer. Even the smartest people can become ensnared in such schemes. "Also, make sure any elderly relatives or other people who might be susceptible know that if they ever get a call from the IRS, it's a scam," says LaPonsie, who adds that if you're concerned that you might owe money, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. Don’t believe a single caller, email, or even letter these days.

The behind-the-times IRS does NOT email people. Ever. They also don't call people on the phone. Can you imagine how many people they would have to hire for this?

LaPonsie also says that fraudsters often use one scam to pull off another. "They use your name, address, Social Security number, and other personal data to fill out and file a fake tax return in your name," she says. "Then, they get a big refund. Meanwhile, the IRS rejects your actual return because the agency thinks you already filed." She explains how the problem can be fixed, but it's a giant headache. "Your best bet is to guard your Social Security number closely and file a return as soon as you have all the necessary paperwork."

Ever see tax advisors advertise their services on a bulletin board or telephone pole? Yup. Scammers. These "experts" might say they are going to get you the biggest refund ever, but there's a chance they will falsify information to do so. "And before that shady return gets you a refund, the preparer might skim some money off the top," says LaPonsie. "Remember, if the IRS audits you, the false information is your problem: The IRS holds taxpayers legally responsible for the information provided on their returns."

Now here is a variation on that theme: people who say they can do your taxes inexpensively. "The problem? They're really crooks," says LaPonsie. "These so-called tax preparers may take your money and run. Or, they may file a return for you while helping themselves to your Social Security number and other information that can be used later for devious deeds, such as identity theft and retail fraud." You can protect yourself by carefully researching the credentials of any tax preparer. You can look for online reviews or ask friends and family for referrals.

When charities aren’t really charities, you’ve been had. "Fraudulent charities can be a problem throughout the year, but they come back to bite you at tax time," says La Ponsie. "If you are audited for deducting donations to a charity that really isn't a charity, the IRS might hit you with more taxes and a penalty." She goes on to say that fake charities make look-alike logos and websites that trick you into thinking you're donating to established organizations.

Fraudsters are also famous for popping up out of nowhere when a disaster takes place, asking for you to donate money for victims of a fire, flood, or hurricane. If they ask for your Social Security number to take your donation, hang up the phone. No charity needs that information, and it's likely your identity will be stolen.

Source: MoneyTalkNews| TBWS