By Michelle Agbanyi

With potentially 153 million returns to be filed this year, scam artists are likely to have a field day. While the IRS continues to increase its efforts against refund fraud, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration projects that victims collectively have paid more than $50 million to scammers posing as IRS officials since 2013. BBB reminds consumers to familiarize themselves with the telltale signs of tax scams.

“Although there’s not a completely fool proof way to keep from having your identity compromised, prevention is key”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB serving Central East Texas. “By familiarizing yourself with the red flags and knowing what to do should you become a victim is the best strategy.”

BBB and IRS offer consumers a few tips to avoid tax scams:

Hang up on fake calls. The IRS will not call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. The IRS will not require a specific payment method or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. Lastly, the IRS will not threaten to bring local police or other law enforcement agencies and have you arrested for not paying.

Don’t open email attachments or click on links. Instead, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.

IRS has released information on scams consumers are most likely to see in 2017:

Fake CP2000 Notice. A relatively new scam, be on guard against fake emails purporting to contain an IRS tax bill related to the Affordable Care Act. Generally, the scam involves an email that includes the fake CP2000 as an attachment. (The CP2000 is a notice commonly mailed to taxpayers through the United States Postal Service. It is never sent as part of an email to taxpayers.)

Paying the “federal student tax.” The IRS warns the public about bogus phone calls from IRS impersonators demanding payment for a non- existent tax, the “Federal Student Tax.” The scammers try to convince people to wire money immediately to the scammer.

Tax-related ID Theft. The Federal Trade Commission reports that since 2009 tax or wage-related fraud has been the fastest-growing way that identity thieves misuse victim’s information. Protection recommendations include never carrying your Social Security card, protecting your personal computer with anti-virus software, and being extremely careful with your personal information.

Tax relief scams. Consumers who owe back-taxes, sometimes out of desperation, readily fall victim to claims from scammers that they can free taxpayers from having to pay the IRS. They claim to be able to settle the debt for pennies on the dollar. These shady businesses and individuals charge exorbitant up-front fees ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. Consumers who are having trouble paying their taxes should: Contact the IRS or state comptroller.

Pay roll, human resource scams. The IRS has received new notifications that the “spoofing” e-mail is going around for a second time. Cybercriminals trick payroll and human resource officials into disclosing employees’ personal information. The e-mail will include the name of the actual CEO asking for W-2 information and staff’s personal information.

Check IRS.gov and bbb.org for trusted tax preparation services. For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.