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The signs of identity theft

Perhaps you were not aware that the first week in February was Tax Fraud Awareness Week. No problem, as every week has some kind of designation. But awareness of the issues surrounding tax fraud is particularly important during this unfolding tax season.

Thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams. Scammers use the regular mail, telephone or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a Social Security number and other personal data to file a bogus tax return and receive the refund.

The IRS warns taxpayers to look for the following signs of identity theft:

• Receiving a letter from the IRS or the S.C. Department of Revenue asking about a tax return you did not file.

• Learning you cannot file a tax return online because of a duplicate Social Security number.

• Receiving an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name or an existing account has been accessed or disabled.

• Receiving an IRS or SCDOR notice about collection efforts for taxes from a year you did not file a return.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs advises:

• File early. File as early as possible. Identity thieves use consumer information to file tax returns and steal refunds before the individual files.

• Use a legitimate tax preparer. Consumers should make sure their preparer is reputable, licensed and has a Preparer Tax Identification Number from the IRS. Visit www.irs.gov or call (800) 906-9887 to see if you qualify for free tax prep services provided by IRS-certified volunteers.

• E-file in safety. When filing online, use anti-virus software and ensure the computer is connected to a secure internet connection. Do not use public Wi-Fi. There are several websites that allow taxpayers to prepare and file their taxes for free, such as the IRS Free File program.

• Watch out for IRS imposter scams. Fraudsters often pose as the IRS to scare and trick you into disclosing personal information or sending them money. The IRS will not call about taxes without sending a notice through the mail first. Report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Department.

And be aware that tax scams are not confined to tax season. The IRS warns that after the April filing deadline passes, scam artists remain hard at work with phishing emails and telephone scams.

* Guest editorial from The Times and Democrat in Orangeburg, S.C.

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