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This is the time of year when many New Jerseyans are busy getting their taxes prepared. But the Internal Revenue Service is warning everyone to be on the lookout for tax crooks looking to steal your hard-earned money.

According to Patricia Russomagno, a spokeswoman for the IRS, one of the biggest scams circulating right now is the IRS phone scam.

“It’s when you get an aggressive or threatening phone call from a criminal who is trying to impersonate an IRS agent,” she said.

“Usually they are telling you that you owe money to the IRS and they are pretty aggressive in trying to get that money from you, either from a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer.”

Russomagno stressed it’s important to stop, take a deep breath and consider what’s going on before taking any action.

“If the call seems suspicious, if you’re not expecting a call from us, if you haven’t had any recent contact with the IRS, then it probably is not us,” she said.

She suggested if things seem fishy, you can simply hang up, then call the IRS and check the status of your account.

“If it seems odd to you, if they’re aggressive, if they’re threatening, if they’re telling you if you don’t pay this money you’re going to be arrested or deported — that is not us. That is not how we do business. Don’t get fooled by that one,” she said.

Russomagno noted the other big tax scam is the IRS email phishing scam.

“You get this email, it looks like it’s from the IRS, they’re hoping that you take the bait and that you provide money or passwords, Social Security numbers, any other information they can use for identity theft,” she said.

“Don’t click on any links claiming to be from the IRS, even if it looks legitimate. These scammers are very sophisticated. They’re able to copy the look of a website and make it seem like you’re responding to the IRS or another official agency.”

She noted a W-2 scam is also now circulating, where criminals pose as the boss or executive of an organization, and send emails to a company payroll or HR department requesting W-2 information for employees.

“If you work in payroll or HR and you get a request from the boss, you’re usually going to comply. But in this case, scammers are hoping to get that W-2 information so they can use it for identity theft,” she said.

She suggested if you get this type of email, you should check with the boss or executive first before anything is sent out, and you can also report it to phishing@irs.gov.

Russomagno stressed when selecting a tax preparer, you should ask yourself a few questions first.

“Does that preparer have a professional IRS preparer tax ID number? Do they have a professional credential, like are they a CPA or are they an enrolled agent?”

The IRS website allows you to check a preparer’s credentials.

She also said they should be e-filing your return (not mailing it) if they’re preparing taxes for more than 10 individuals, and they should never ask you to sign a blank tax return. You should get the opportunity to review your return and ask questions before it is filed.

“Tax preparer fraud is something that runs rampant and by following some guidelines you can make sure you’re not taken advantage of,” she said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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