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IRS warns that tax scams have risen by 400 percent

It's clear that financial fraud is one of the biggest threats facing individuals, businesses and government agencies. Although hacking and other online scams are more pervasive than in the past, scammers are still using phones and U.S. Mail to commit their crimes as well.

Unfortunately for all taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service has become a frequent target of scams as well as a frequent ruse adopted by scammers. According to a consumer warning recently issued by the IRS, electronic tax scams targeting taxpayers are up 400 percent this year so far.

We have previously written about one type of scam that has been around for a few years. Con artists call individual taxpayers claiming to be from the IRS. They allege that the person owes back taxes and threaten swift legal trouble if the person doesn't pay up immediately. They then try to solicit payments over the phone or through other hard-to-track methods.

It is fairly easy to avoid falling for that scam if you understand how the IRS generally handles its communications. But other scams being used are easier to fall for because they only require you to click a link.

They work like this: You get an official-looking email from what appears to be the IRS or the tax software company you use. When you open the emails, the sender asks you to click on a link and then provide certain personal information for purposes of "identity confirmation" or "security verification." These are phishing scams trying to obtain personal info so that scammers can file false tax returns in your name. Even if they don't seek personal information directly, clicking on the link can infect your computer with malware that might allow scammers to obtain personal information in other ways.

If you'll be filing your federal income tax return soon (and most of us will be), please be especially careful about any electronic communications you receive that appear to be from the IRS or a tax-preparation company. Ignoring a message for the time being might ultimately be less risky than opening it and clicking links.

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