5 Online Tax Scams to Avoid in 2013

With tax season right around the corner, it's time to prepare for another season of IRS scams designed to lure you into fake websites, steal personal information, and separate you from your hard-earned money. Each year, thousands of people are victims of online tax scams. The good news is that the IRS is getting better at identifying these scams. According to a recent IRS report, they protected more than $1.4 billion of taxpayer funds from getting into the wrong hands in 2011.

As the tax deadline approaches, cybercriminals will be devising new ways to trick you with fake IRS emails, websites, and malicious ads. Here are five online scams to watch for and avoid:

1. Identity Theft. With 81% of taxpayers filing their returns online last year, electronic filing has also become very popular with thieves. Once they have your Social Security number, they use tax preparation software to file fake returns and collect refunds. Although the IRS is taking steps to prevent thieves from using the e-file system and to help victims resolve fraud issues, the best way to avoid this scam is to protect your personal data with Trend Micro Titanium, file early, and if possible, do your taxes yourself.

2. Tax Preparation Phishing Scam. If you use popular tax preparation software, like TurboTax, look for fake emails asking you to update your software to be in compliance with new tax laws. If you click on the link, you'll go to a fake website that looks like the real thing, and your computer will be infected with a virus. This scam may also include emails asking for personal information to verify your account. Remember: providing personal information like social security numbers, birth dates, etc. can lead to identity theft.

3. Disaster Scam. Cybercriminals are eager to take advantage of disasters, so don't be surprised if a few email messages requesting donations for Hurricane Sandy victims find their way to your in box. These scams typically promise a tax credit applicable to your 2012 tax return if you make a charitable donation, and may even have an official-looking website. But don't be fooled: You can ask for the charity's tax-exempt letter indicating its IRS status or donate to an established charity. For more donating tips, check out ftc.gov/charityfraud.

4. Black Hat SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is used to get specific websites listed at the top of searches on Google and other search engines. Once they have identified popular keywords for this year's tax searches, cybercriminals can creates fake sites for search engines that offer fake tax documents and other items designed to get personal information, or infect your computer with malware. To avoid these scams, don't use search engines for tax information or documents. Go directly to a government site, like IRS.gov or an individual state government site whose web address ends with .gov.

5. Email from IRS. When most of us receive an email message from the IRS, we open it and read it. That's why scammers send emails that claim to be from the IRS. These messages typically ask you to download a tax form or visit another website to claim a refund. But if you download the tax form, there's a good chance your computer will be infected. And if you visit the site, you may fall victim to a drive-by download or you may be asked to provide your Social Security number to receive the refund. In fact, the IRS will never send you an email message requesting your personal information or with tax forms attached. Suspicious email can be forwarded to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

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