Thursday, October 02, 2014

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Officials Warn Of Phony IRS Emails, Tax Preparers

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With tax season in full swing, officials are offering warning signs to look out for potential tax scams. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.

At a time of year when tax prep signs seem to pop up on every corner, the process of picking a preparer should be more than eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

"I think it's always important, especially when people are dealing with money, and particularly if they are dealing with refunds, to make sure that the people that are helping them are legitimate," says Jonathan Mintz, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

Mintz suggests you start your search by asking for suggestions.

"You really should be sure to get a couple of references," he says. "Work with somebody that somebody else you know has used, and used successfully."

Beyond that, he says to go with your gut and keep an eye out for any potential red flags.

"If a tax preparer bases their fees on how much a refund is going to be, bad sign," Mintz says. "It's illegal. Get out!"

Speaking of refunds, don't be lured by the promise of a big check.

"A tax preparer can't guarantee you a refund because a tax preparer doesn't give you a refund. The government does," Mintz says.

Then, there are those who will use the web to lure you into giving them your personal and financial information.

One place things can get a little fishy is in your inbox. IRS spokeswoman Dianne Besunder says the IRS never reaches out to taxpayers via email, and yet, every year, thousands of people receive convincing phony messages.

"Sometimes, they'll promise you a refund, or sometimes, they try and scare you and say, 'We're considering auditing you,'" Besunder says. "The IRS is never going to contact you that way."

Your best bet: don't click on any links, and above all, don't respond.

"Never, never, never, never send your social security over an email," Mintz says. "And even if it looks like it's coming from the government, it looks like it's coming from the IRS, don't give them your social security number. Don't give them any bank account numbers."

But do let the IRS know about it. You can forward the email to a special account they've set up: phishing@irs.gov. You can also call 800-829-1040 to find out if the IRS is actually trying to get in touch with you, which, by the way, they'll almost always do the old-fashioned way, by sending a letter.

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