In these final weeks before April 15, be aware that tax season in the U.S. has also become open season for scammers and identity thieves, who use phone calls and email to try to steal your personal information. Hacking, skimming and phishing incidents reached a nine-year high last year, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. And the Internal Revenue Service just put identity theft at the top of its Dirty Dozen list of tax season scams.
Whether online or on the phone, scammers claim to represent the IRS. In phone call scenarios, a scammer may threaten taxpayers with arrest or deportation if they don’t cooperate. Online scams are phishing for your Social Security number or other personal information that can be used to steal from you.

Even if you think you’re good at spotting scams, take a minute to review these IRS policies:
The IRS will never make a call to a taxpayer’s home phone without mailing a notice first. The agency also does not make phone calls to demand immediate payments, or to require a specific payment method, such as an electronic check. The agency counsels taxpayers to hang up on anyone calling with such demands and report the call to the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.

The IRS says it NEVER contacts taxpayers by text message or email. So if you receive such a message, delete it immediately.

The IRS does not offer web-based products to the general public. If you see an online ad for IRS products that says it will help you file your personal taxes, ignore it.

And keep in mind these additional security tips:

• Don’t give any business your Social Security number just because they ask. Give it only when you’re sure it’s required information – and you know the business doing the asking.
• Check your credit report every 12 months.
• Secure personal information in your home.
• Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches, and change passwords for Internet accounts.
• Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know the person you are dealing with.
Bottom line: Be wary of communications purporting to be from the IRS – particularly during tax season.

Recovering from any type of identity theft can be a long and frustrating process. Consider using an identity protection service. Such services are not a guarantee against identity theft, but if your i.d. is stolen, they can help you identify the crime more quickly and then assist you in restoring your identity.