If you get a phone call, text or Facebook message from someone demanding immediate payment for back taxes and threatening you with jail or deportation, do not respond and do not click on any email links.

Tax time is prime time for IRS scammers.

There are several variations of the scam.

Sometimes scam artists will pretend to be Internal Revenue Service agents, demand that you pay a bogus tax bill and threaten you with arrest or deportation. In some cases, they’ll ask you to pay with a credit card or tell you to buy a debit card. In another variation, scammers will ask to verify your tax information so they can steal your personal information and file a tax return in your name with the refund going to them.

The scam artists may disguise their number so that your caller ID says the call is from the IRS or Treasury Department. Do not believe it.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

If someone calls saying they are from the IRS:

• Assume it’s a scam. The IRS doesn’t call people about taxes without sending a notice by mail first.

• Hang up. Do not provide any personal information or engage the caller.

• Report the incident. Call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 or report it at www.tigta.gov. If it is not a scam, they will tell you what to do next.

Do not send money via debit card, iTunes, credit card or wire transfer. If a caller demands immediate payment over the phone or asks you to send money via iTunes, a prepaid debit call or wire transfer, it’s a scam. The IRS doesn’t do that. They also do not threaten to bring in the police or local law enforcement to have you arrested.

Do not click on the link. The IRS does not use email, text message, Facebook or other social media to request personal or financial information. The official IRS website is irs.gov, not irsgov, and it does not end with .com, .net or .org.

For more information on how to protect your money from scam artists, join AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network. Take our new quiz to find out how vulnerable you are to investment fraud.

Also, if you need help preparing your taxes and can’t afford to pay someone, AARP’s Tax Aide program is the largest free tax preparation service in the country. We have more than 30 locations in Hawai‘i to help people age 50-plus save money on filing taxes. Go to aarp.org/HI or call 1-888-AARPNOW to find the location nearest you. Goodwill and the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program — VITA — offer similar free services. Go to higoodwill.org for more information.

Once you finish your taxes, you can protect yourself even more by shredding your sensitive personal documents at AARP’s Operation Stop Scams free shredding event and food drive on Saturday, April 30, from 8 a.m. to noon at Access Corporation Destruction Center, 98-736 Moanalua Lp. Go to aarp.org/HI for more details.

It’s tough enough to have to pay taxes. Don’t let scammers take advantage of tax time to steal your money or your tax refund.

Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawaii since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.

This story originally appeared in the Hawaii Herald

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