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Taxpayers in Southern California may dread receiving communications from the Internal Revenue Service because they often contain the announcement of an audit or a tax deficiency. But people here and around the country have a new reason to be wary of potential communications from the IRS: identity theft.

According to the IRS, people have been receiving e-mails that claim to be from the agency that ask taxpayers to reply with certain pieces of personal information. The IRS is warning that such e-mails are inauthentic and are the work of identity thieves. It is easy to identify these communications as false because the IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers using e-mail or other electronic methods, such as text messages.

In addition, the IRS has said that scammers have created a website that looks like and functions similarly to its e-Services page. This decoy page, however, is intended to trick people into providing their personal and financial information to identity thieves. Users may be able to spot the fraudulent website if its web address does not end in .gov, like all IRS websites should.

More importantly, ordinary California taxpayers should become suspicious by the very fact that they are being directed to the e-Services website. Most taxpayers will not need to conduct any business on that page, which is primarily used by tax professionals.

Other identity theft schemes related to taxes have used taxpayers’ personal information to file fraudulent returns and claim refunds before the true taxpayer’s return is filed. It has not been revealed whether these identity theft schemes are aimed at capturing future refunds or whether the personal information is being harvested for other ends. In either event, taxpayers should keep their guard up and be vigilant for potential identity theft traps.

Source: Forbes, “IRS Issues Warning On Fake Web Site,” Kelly Phillips Erb, Oct. 26, 2012

• Some taxpayers who have had their refunds stolen in the past have had trouble clearing their name with the IRS and obtaining their correct refund. You can learn more about dealing with the IRS at my Orange County tax controversy page.