Guest column/You can take steps to keep away from tax-season scams

Scammers never stop trying to make a quick buck at the expense of victims.

During tax season they target taxpayers looking for money or valuable information.

Here’s an example: If you get a call claiming you owe back taxes or a warrant’s out for your arrest, chances are you’re being targeted by the type of tax scam that’s reported most often to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The set-up is simple. A caller pretending to represent the IRS startles you with accusations and threats. You’re told to dial a specific number right away and, when you do, you’re instructed to send money or provide personal information to resolve the supposed problem. The IRS imposter directs you to purchase gift cards and read the card numbers over the phone. The con artist then drains the value of the cards, making it all but impossible to trace or recover the money.

The real IRS, however, won’t demand immediate payments over the phone or ask you to settle a legitimate debt with gift cards.

Tax preparation season is also prime time for identity thieves who try to steal your personal information, file a fraudulent tax return and illicitly snag your refund. The numerous data breaches that exposed the Social Security numbers and sensitive information of thousands of individuals this year call for added vigilance.

According to the IRS, another scam aimed at human resources or payroll employees surged significantly last year. In this scheme, an e-mail appearing to come from a supervisor or the head of the organization instructs the worker to forward all employees’ W-2s. It may appear legitimate, but the e-mail is actually part of a phishing scam. Any thefts of W-2s should be reported to the IRS immediately.

To avoid getting caught in a tax scam:

¯ File your tax return promptly. A potential impostor will have less time to file a tax return in your name and steal your refund.

¯ Ignore threatening robocalls. If an unfamiliar caller insists you’re about to be arrested for not paying taxes, it’s likely to be a scam. Don’t respond to the call, and don’t make a payment or give out personal information on the phone.

¯ Protect your personal information.

¯ If you file your taxes online, be sure to use a secure Internet connection. If you file by mail, take your completed return directly to the post office. Shred any unneeded documents containing your Social Security number or other sensitive information before discarding them.

¯ Research professional tax preparers. Check a tax preparer’s credentials before trusting them with personal records or information. Review the listings in the IRS’s directory of federal tax return preparers or ask trusted friends or family members for referrals.

¯ Watch out for phishing scams. Approach e-mail messages that look like they came from a familiar source or an institution with caution: The message may be part of a phishing scam.

For help detecting a potential scam, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or (800) 282-0515. Report IRS or U.S. Treasury impersonation scams to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at or (800) 366-4484.

Federal and state tax identity theft should be reported to the IRS and the Ohio Department of Taxation, respectively.

(DeWine is Ohio’s attorney general.)