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DENVER - As soon as W-2s arrive, tax time gets underway and for many, that can mean phishing attempts, identity theft or dealing with an unreliable tax preparer. The Better Business Bureau is warning taxpayers to stay on guard against scams, protect their personal information and hire only reputable tax preparers.

Some tax preparation companies are open for only a few months every year, and it can be hard to contact the preparer if there are problems with your return. Each year, consumers file complaints with the BBB about delays in getting refunds. The BBB encourages taxpayers to check BBB Business Reviews and hire BBB Accredited tax preparers by browsing its online directory at www.findacompany.org.

Fraudulent phishing emails that appear to be from the Internal Revenue Service continue to target taxpayers during this busy season. These emails usually indicate some action is needed regarding the recipient's refund. Links in the emails usually go to a scammer's website, which asks victims to enter Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information. The site may automatically install viruses or other malicious software on victims' computers.

Additionally, tax identity theft has also become a growing problem in recent years. According to the IRS, nearly 1,500 tax identity-theft related criminal investigations were launched in 2013-an increase of 66 percent from 2012. To protect consumers, the IRS, FTC and BBB have expanded efforts to educate taxpayers and help victims.

Avoid becoming a victim of tax identity theft:
• Don't wait. File tax returns early.
• Protect your information. Don't leave W-2s in unsecure locations like offices or cars. Shred copies of leftover tax information, drafts, or calculation sheets that are no longer needed. Never disclose Social Security numbers-SSNs-or other sensitive personal information over the phone to unsolicited callers.
• Take security measures. Use secure Internet connections when filing electronically, or mail tax returns directly from the post office.
• Do your homework. Check BBB Business Reviews and hire BBB Accredited tax preparers by browsing the BBB online directory at www.findacompany.org.

If personal information is compromised, take immediate proactive steps to recover:
• Contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
• Place freezes on credit reports; continue to monitor credit by obtaining free reports from each of the three credit bureaus atwww.annualcreditreport.com

Remember, the IRS will never initiate contact by email, text or social media.

This information was written by Megan Herrera, Public Relations Specialist for the Denver BBB.

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