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Beware of Scams During Tax Season

Filing income-tax forms early can help protect against fraud. (Ken Teegardin/flickr.com)
Filing income-tax forms early can help protect against fraud. (Ken Teegardin/flickr.com)
February 19, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - With the deadline to file income tax forms coming up, Pennsylvanians are being warned to guard against fraud and identity theft.

Taxes are due on April 18 this year, and thieves already are preying on unsuspecting taxpayers in a variety of ways. Bill Johnston-Walsh, director of AARP Pennsylvania, said one favorite ploy is a phone call from someone posing as an IRS official, claiming back taxes are owed and demanding immediate payment. Johnston-Walsh said there are telltale signs that it's a fraud.

"The IRS never asks for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, and even in the email, they would not do that," he said. "They're going to be sending you things through the mail system."

Pennsylvania is 18th among states for complaints of identity theft, with stolen identities sometimes used for tax fraud.

According to Johnston-Walsh, thieves often steal mail from unlocked mailboxes or raid trash cans for information they can use to impersonate a taxpayer.

"The scammers electronically file a tax return under someone else's name to collect their tax refund," he said. "And really, all they need to do that is someone's birth date and a Social Security number."

That's why he said AARP advises people to shred papers that contain any personal information before throwing them out.

There are ways people can protect themselves. Johnston-Walsh said the best way to avoid tax fraud is to beat the scammers to the finish line.

"Do your tax returns early and get them in as soon as possible to beat any con artists that are trying to take your identity and use it against you," he said.

He also advised that you know the person preparing your taxes, and never give out personal information without asking why it's needed.

More information is online at aarp.org/scamalert.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA