The IRS is being proactive. With tax season fast approaching, they’re warning filers to beware of email scams designed by hackers to steal your information. In fact, they’re ramping up a 10-week “Don’t Take The Bait” campaign to heighten awareness of what is fast becoming an extremely sophisticated scam. It works like this:

You get what appears to be an official notification (via email) from one of the many online “do it yourself” tax services or tax software vendors. The email will offer you a steep discount for filing your taxes with them, or for purchasing or updating their tax software if you’ve downloaded something.

Unfortunately, it’s not a legitimate offer, but merely a vehicle used to get you to give the scammers as much personal information as they can get. If they can convince you to take them up on their “offer,” then at a minimum they’ll get your name, address and credit card information. And, depending on how deep they get their hooks into you, they might even make off with your social security number, at which point, the sky’s the limit from the hacker’s point of view.

This isn’t a new trend, but in recent years, scammers have been upping their game and refining their technique. While it’s always possible to find some ham-fisted attempt that’s written in barely coherent English, there are plenty of examples where it’s virtually impossible to tell a fake email from a legitimate one.

The scammers use all the same graphics and format their messages the same way. The big “tell” is that when you hover over the links that are inevitably embedded in the message, you’ll see, along the bottom of your web browser, that they point to a domain that’s clearly not legitimate. Of course, in the excitement at the prospect of getting a great deal, almost no one bothers to look that closely.

In any case, it’s something to be mindful of. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently hand over the keys to your digital kingdom and identity to someone who clearly doesn’t have your best interests in mind. Be careful out there!

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