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Tax Man Says Beware 'Dirty Dozen' Tax Scams

Pedestrian uses smartphone

The IRS is alerting tax payers to a surge in phone calls from phony IRS agents demanding money. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

As if taxes weren't frightening enough, now you have to worry getting ripped off by crooks.

The Internal Revenue Service is warning consumers about a surge in aggressive phone calls and emails that pretend to be from the agency, but are really fraudsters. Phones are ringing in every state with criminals threatening arrest, deportation and legal action, unless you pay up right now.

Not even the FTC is safe from being targeted in the high-pressure con-game.

FTC attorney Lisa Weintraub Schifferle blogged about her own experience with one of the deceptive calls. She came home from work to find this message on her voice mail, which she said scared her kids:

"Hello, we have been trying to reach you. This call is officially a final notice from the IRS, Internal Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing a lawsuit against you."

Schifferle knew well enough to ignore the call but others aren't so lucky. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) knows of over 3,000 victims since October 2013 who have paid over $14 million total to scammers calling and pretending to be from the IRS.

CNBC update: Fake tax probe 0:55

The number one way to spot one of these scams? They call you. The IRS says that when it does contact a taxpayer to collect, phone and email are never the first ways it uses. Another warning sign is that the IRS will not require a specific form of payment. Scammers routinely demand immediate payment by prepaid debit card or money transfer.

Though at the top of the list, fake phone calls and emails are just some of the "Dirty Dozen" of tax scams the IRS is alerting tax payers about this year.

Be on the lookout for preparers who try to steer you towards cheating on your taxes, by falsifying income to claim tax credits, hiding income with fake documents, using abusive tax shelters, or making excessive claims for tax credits.

Following the loss of over 80 million records in the Athem insurance breach in late January, consumers need to be extra wary of tax-related scams this tax season. Millions of Social Security numbers were also taken in the breach. With just that number and your date of birth, criminals can file fake tax returns in your name and try to steal your tax refund.

If someone tries to victimize you in a tax scam, report them to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at tigta.gov, as well as filing a complaint with the FTC.

Bottom line?

"These criminals try to scare and shock you into providing personal financial information on the spot while you are off guard," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "Don't be taken in and don't engage these people over the phone."