In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Michelle Obama turned 50 on Friday and promptly showed off her AARP card. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Michelle Obama turned 50 on Friday and promptly showed off her AARP card. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

HARRISBURG, PA—As Pennsylvania residents work to file tax returns before this year’s April 18 deadline, the AARP Fraud Watch Network is launching a new education effort to help consumers protect themselves from tax-related scams.

The campaign includes warnings about two very popular tax scams. An imposter scam occurs when a fraudster poses as an IRS agent and claims a person owes back taxes. In the identity theft scheme, scammers electronically file a tax return under someone else’s name to collect their tax refund.  All they need is a birthdate and Social Security number.

“Throwing a pay stub in the trash may seem easier than finding a shredder, but the risk of having your tax refund stolen is just too great,” said AARP State President Jim Palmquist.  “And paying someone who claims to be an IRS agent may seem like it will get the government off your back, but it will actually rob you of your hard-earned money.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Pennsylvania ranks 18th in ID theft complaints, and many taxpayers make their personal information easy pickings by:

Failing to lock their mailbox.  Almost six in ten (59%) Americans do not regularly lock their mailbox, which leaves them open to a criminal stealing bills, tax forms and other documents that contain personal information.

Leaving valuables exposed:  Over half (54%) of Americans 18-49 have left at least one valuable personal item in their car in the last week (e.g., a purse/wallet, paystub, laptop) that could be used to steal their identity.

Failing to destroy personal information:  More than one in five (21%) Americans say they never shred any of the personal documents that could be used to steal their identity.

AARP encourages Pennsylvanians to follow these 4 tips to protect themselves from tax identity theft:

Do mail tax returns as early in the tax season as possible before the cons beat you to it.

Don’t give out personal information unless you know who’s asking for it and why they need it.

Shred personal and financial documents.

Know your tax preparer.

To protect taxpayers from imposter scams, AARP recommends Pennsylvanians educate themselves on these 3 important facts:

The IRS doesn’t call to demand immediate payment about taxes owed without first sending you a notification by mail.

The IRS doesn’t ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

The IRS doesn’t threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest you for nonpayment.

In addition, the Association encourages Pennsylvanians to take advantage of AARP’s free tax preparation services. Visit aarp.org/taxaide (1-888-227-7669) for information about AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation program. Each tax season, Tax Aide helps millions of low- to moderate-income taxpayers – especially those 50 and older – get the credits and deductions they deserve.

For these and other fraud prevention tips, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

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