As we close in on April 15, the traditional tax filing hysteria with all the media attention helps spawn another side industry – tax scams. This time of year criminals use the fear of IRS to prey on victims and get them to disclose valuable info to steal identities and money.

The IRS issued a warning recently about one scam that offers free money to taxpayers who have little or no income based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Promoters take money to file fraudulent returns applying for bogus refunds. These tax schemes are often promoted to members of local churches or over the internet.

Recently Intuit, parent company of TurboTax software has seen an increase in phony “Phishing” scams. These thieves send emails that purport to be from Intuit or QuickBooks and ask you for personal information to complete processing of your tax returns. Once obtained, they have personal data that enables them to steal your identity and file false tax returns on your behalf.

Some things you can do to prevent becoming a victim:

Never respond to an email purporting to be from IRS. IRS does not contact taxpayers via email except when they issue public announcements to subscribers. Your email address is not on your tax return anywhere.

If you are contacted by someone purporting to be from IRS, they will have a badge and a business card. Do not disclose any information to them. If they are from IRS they will already have access to your tax files and will not need copies from you. Request their name and location and call them back on a telephone number that you obtain from public sources (phone book) as opposed to a printed business card. Ask for their supervisor’s name and which group they are located in to help you locate them.

Never deal with a tax preparer firm that is from out of state, or that promises free money from some government entitlement.

If you use tax prep software, do not disclose any personal information via email or respond to any such requests. If you have trouble with the software, deal with someone directly over the phone, and never disclose your SSN or other personal data to them.