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How to avoid being scammed this tax season

Daily Ticker

Filing one's income taxes has never been an enjoyable experience. Yet taxpayers have even more to worry about these days than digging out old receipts and remembering where they stashed W2 forms. Cyber criminals have become more sophisticated in their online attacks and millions of Americans unknowingly fall victim to these tax scams every year. Nearly 1.6 million taxpayers were deceived in the first half of 2013 -- a tenfold increase from 2010, according to cybersecurity expert Patrick Peterson. These scams are emails that are often "too good to be true" says Peterson and are sent from email aliases that look like official government agencies like the IRS.

"The IRS won't reach out to you over email," says Peterson, who is also the CEO of data security firm Agari. "If you see something suspicious call the IRS."

The federal tax bureau releases its annual list of the "dirty dozen" tax scams to educate Americans about the various ways online criminals try to take advantage of people. Often times these scammers want social security numbers and other identifying information so tax refunds can be sent to the criminals directly. These beguiling emails may also contain malware, so when a person opens the email, a virus attaches itself to one's hard drive.

Another tax scam that Americans need to be extra vigilant of this time of year: preparer fraud. More than 60% of Americans use tax professionals to file returns and the IRS has a site dedicated to helping Americans choose a trusted and reputable accountant or preparer.

Peterson says Americans should contact the IRS immediately if one feels he or she has been compromised. These calls have helped the IRS stop about 15 million fraudulent tax returns in the past three years. The FBI also has a database to track criminal complaints. And don't necessarily believe every email that's waiting in your inbox from a bank: Peterson notes that banks will contact you about questionable charges or overdrawn funds, but will never inquire about your bank account or Social Security number.

Editor's note: Agari has worked with Yahoo on cybersecurity issues.

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