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Originally published Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Scams target payers, tax pros

Tax scams are in full swing, and this year they're targeting both taxpayers and tax professionals. Some new scams involving the much-ballyhooed...

Newhouse News Service

Tax scams are in full swing, and this year they're targeting both taxpayers and tax professionals.

Some new scams involving the much-ballyhooed tax rebates have already popped up — and you can expect more to appear as the government gets closer to issuing those checks.

For now, look out for:

• Investigation/audit alerts. These warnings, which may appear to be from the IRS, the Department of Justice or another federal agency, warn the recipient that a company with which he or she is associated is the subject of an audit or a complaint "for business activity."

In the audit e-mails — and this is rare in spam — a specific individual or company may be named. Usually, spam isn't that specific.

These bogus e-mails may include a link to a complaint or form, although clicking on either could infect the computer with malware that can transmit account numbers and passwords or the user's keystrokes to a remote location.

Agencies do not e-mail notices of investigations or audits. They send letters.

• Rebate phone calls. Callers purport to be IRS employees who need bank or Social Security information to get a rebate check to the taxpayer.

The only way you should share bank-routing information with the IRS is on your tax return. The IRS does not make phone calls to check the status of taxpayers' returns, refunds or rebates.

Occasionally, scammers will invoke the name of the Social Security Administration because that sometimes rattles older consumers.

• Reward/refund/rebate e-mails. A number of scams purport to give people prizes for filling out tax forms early, for being conscientious about filing tax returns or as a reward for some other good behavior. The e-mail may contain a link to a claim form that, if you fill it out, will transmit account or Social Security numbers to scammers. The IRS isn't in the business of giving out grants, rewards or other warm fuzzies.

Charity scams. These are e-mails that appear to be from the IRS and that are aimed at charitable organizations. It's the usual "click here and pick up a virus or share your account information with scammers."

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• Tax law updates. This bogus IRS e-mail is addressed to accountants, business managers and treasurers. The e-mail claims to have a link to updates to the tax code. The link is believed to contain malware or spyware.

Check scheme. This is a phone scam, in which a caller who claims to be from the IRS purports to be verifying an uncashed refund check. The caller asks for bank-routing information. The IRS does not make such calls.

So here are some rules of thumb:

• The government conducts official business through regular mail, not through e-mail. E-mail is not secure.

• If you're in doubt, contact the IRS through its Web site at www.irs.gov or 800-829-1040. (If you want to get to a live representative, press 1 and then 5.)

• E-mails about prizes, lotteries and the like are generally fake — no matter who the sender is.

• Never click on a link contained in an e-mail unless you know the sender and know what the link will take you to.

• You can forward any suspect e-mails from the IRS to phishing@irs.gov.

• The FBI also collects and investigates Internet scams. For directions on how to pass a complaint along, visit the FBI's Web site at www.ic3.gov.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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