7 On Your Side: Beware of phony IRS tax scams; New twists, old tricks to steal your refund

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The Federal Trade Commission said consumers reported losing more than $1.4 billion to fraud in 2018, with $488 million taken in impostor scams, and it's about to spike during this time of year.

Criminals love this time of year, when there are about five weeks until tax day on Monday, April 15, 2019.

The best advice to avoid an IRS tax scam is filing early. ID theft experts say criminals love to beat you to the altar, stealing your W-2 and running away with your refund.

Many new scams are coming in the way of pop-ups on your computer, but most start with simple phone calls.

"They're aggressive and rude and obnoxious, too," said Amber Ho-Shing, an Instagram follower who commented on my post last week about getting the same repeat calls from someone in San Antonio, Texas, claiming to be from the IRS.

The voicemail claimed a lawsuit had been filed by the US government for intentional IRS Fraud. Ho-Shing and I were informed by this fake agent that we needed to pay, and if we did not, the cops were coming to arrest us.

Impostor calls, known as vishing or voicemail fishing, are rampant during tax season.

"The IRS will never call you," identity theft expert Adam Levin said. "If you get a call from the IRS, it's not the IRS."

His company, CyberScout, also scouted out a new phony phishing scam - a pop-up-peddling discount software.

"The pop-up looks like TurboTax feel likes TurboTax, asks for information TurboTax would ask for, and then steals that info because its not TurboTax," Levin said.

He warns to watch out for these red flags:

1) A low price that's too good to be true: $19 for 2018 TurboTax premiere when the real deal on Intuits official site is $109.
2) The website link the scam pop-up leads you too isn't secure. It should have a padlock and an S at the end of http.
3) TurboTax will never send you an email asking for login and password info.
4) TurboTax will never send an email with an attachment saying "here is a download you need to update your system."

Other big takeaways during tax season are to beware of "Ghost" Tax Preparers who pop-up in shopping center or call you unsolicited offering help with your taxes (these may be impostors).

Also, be wary of calls to and from your Human Resources Department asking for you to verify W-2 information. If you file your taxes electronically, like 92 percent of New Yorkers do, don't file using public Wi-Fi. Instead, make sure you're on a secure server.

Lastly, the Golden Rule is that the IRS does not call, use email or social media to contact taxpayers. The IRS uses regular US Mail, and if you get a call pressuring you or threatening you to pay your taxes or penalties by wire, iTunes, Apple Card, Prepaid Money Cards, it's a scam.

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