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Is Your Tax Rebate Safe? How to Avoid Tax Scams

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The upcoming economic stimulus payments offer a new opportunity for scammers to deceive you. Steve Weisman gives some tips on avoiding the security risks associated with direct deposit of your rebate, and the confirmation of personal information by the IRS.

Scam artists are adept at manipulating everything we do toward their criminal ends. For instance, during hurricane season, they pretend to be government workers providing financial assistance, but instead take their victims' personal information and make them victims of identity theft. But these "disaster" scams pale in comparison to tax season. With billions of dollars at stake each year, income tax season is prime time scam season.

And this year it is going to be worse.

The economic stimulus package passed by Congress will soon put money in the hands of qualifying taxpayers: as much as $600 for singles and as much as $1,200 for married taxpayers with additional payments of $300 for each child under 17. More than 130 million Americans are expected to qualify for these payments. This is just too much money for scam artists to pass up.

With many Americans anxious to get their rebate checks as soon as possible, more people are expected to take advantage of electronic Direct Deposit than ever before. But for scammers, signing up for Direct Deposit can be the first step in the trap.

Signing up for the Direct Deposit program is quite simple. You can simply indicate on your tax form that you wish to have your check sent to you electronically. In order to do so, you must include your bank's routing number and your account number on your Form 1040 so that a government check can be sent directly to your bank account.

Here's where the scam artist steps in.

The next step may be a telephone call from the IRS saying that they need to confirm your information in order to process your income tax refund or payment pursuant to the economic stimulus package. But the call is not from the IRS. The IRS never collects information about rebates or refunds in this manner. The telephone call is from a con artist who will use the information that unwary victims provide to empty the victims' bank accounts and steal their identity.

Other times the scammers may contact you by an email, confirming or or asking for additional information in order for the IRS to process your refund or rebate. This time you are told to link to the IRS's website. Victims who do link to the website provided in the email find a website that looks exactly like the IRS's website—but it isn't. Again, the information you provide goes to a con artist who uses this information to steal your money and your identity from you. The IRS never contacts anyone for such information by email.

Remember, the IRS will never ask you for personal information via the telephone or email. Be careful and keep tax season from becoming scam season.

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