How scammers will pose as the IRS and try to fool you during tax season

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If you're new to taxes, here are three terms that shouldn't scare you. (Shutterstock)

From threatening calls to phishing over the internet, there's a growing list of ways scammers could try to dupe you this tax season. Here's what you need to know about scams and hoaxes before it's too late:

The IRS will not initiate contact by asking for credit or debit card information over the phone or via email

When attempting to settle a debt, the IRS will not initially contact you demanding immediate payment over the phone, via email or through text message. In the event that you do have an outstanding debt, look for a paper bill from the IRS in the mail before the agency attempts to contact you over the phone.

Additionally, the IRS allows taxpayers to appeal tax debts it says they owe and will not demand immediate payment.

The IRS does not allow you to pay tax debts with gift cards

Despite what some scammers claim, the IRS does not accept gift cards or pre-paid debit cards as payment for an outstanding tax debt. Many scammers have specifically been asking victims to buy iTunes gift cards and read gift card numbers over the phone, which will not settle a debt.

The IRS will not threaten to have you immediately arrested for nonpayment

While scammers may attempt to intimidate victims into sending money by threatening to have them arrested or deported, the IRS uses other avenues to collect unpaid taxes. That being said, you can still be sent to jail and/or fined if you're found guilty of tax fraud or evasion.

The IRS will not call you to "verify" your tax return

A scammer posing as an IRS agent may call you and indicate that they need a few more details (usually sensitive personal financial information) to finish filing your tax return. The IRS will not ask for sensitive personal information via phone or email as a way to verify your identity.

The IRS may visit you in person

An IRS representative could come to your door under certain circumstances, but they will provide two forms of credentials: a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. Upon request, the representative will also provide an agency phone number that you can use to verify their identity.

In many cases, the IRS will notify you via mail ahead of time for an in-person visit, though they may still happen without prior notice.

During an in-person visit, a legitimate representative will only ask you to make a payment to the U.S. Treasury, not to any other source, even if a third-party debt collector is involved. If the IRS has retained a private agency to collect a tax debt, they will notify you ahead of time.

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel will not ask for your personal or financial information

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel is a real organization that functions as a liaison between taxpayers and the IRS regarding general customer service processes. That being said, it has nothing to do with your personal taxes or the process of filing your taxes each year. Some scammers have attempted to hijack the legitimacy of the organization to deceive taxpayers into revealing sensitive information, but the panel itself has no access to individual taxpayer information and will never request that information.

There's no Federal Student Tax

For several years, scammers have been targeting taxpayers with fraudulent phone calls claiming that they owe money for the Federal Student Tax, which does not exist. The scam typically includes a demand that the victim immediately wire money to settle the bogus debt.

Never sign a blank return for your tax preparer or agree to pay a percentage of your refund

"Those preparers who ask clients to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at taxpayer records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund are probably up to no good," the IRS warns. It's also a red flag if you are not given a copy of what your tax professional files on your behalf.
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