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Fraudsters are getting smarter and smarter — and it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell them apart from real opportunities in the financial world.

At this time of year, we see a lot of tax-related scams as our members scramble to get their paperwork to the IRS by the mid-April deadline. Unfortunately, there are a lot of so-called “tax preparers” out there who are willing to take a low fee to file your taxes while telling you they can get you the biggest refund you’ve ever received!

Often, these scammers will have you sign the paperwork to file your taxes, and then go back and change your financial information to secure a refund and request direct deposit for it— directly into their own bank account instead of yours.

To avoid this scam, do a lot of research before you work with a tax preparer by asking for references, Google-searching their name and finding out their physical office location. Ask for their Preparer Tax Identification Number (every legitimate tax preparer must have one), and be sure you never sign a blank or partially completed form.

If you think a fake tax preparer is scamming you, make sure you report this to the IRS and to the Federal Trade Commission. They may be able to help you get the real refund you deserve.

Here at CommonWealth One, we see a new scam every week and we do our best to protect our members from people who have bad intentions.

The following list includes some of the tools that you can use — including several we offer to members — to help protect your financial health:

Alerts. You can set up just about all of your credit cards and bank accounts with alerts so you receive a text message or email when account activity happens. You can set up alerts for your CommonWealth One VISA credit card and set up alerts for your CommonWealth One checking and savings accounts, too.

Free credit reports. Every year, you are eligible to get a free credit report from the credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). Take advantage of this to do an annual review — make sure no one has set up accounts using your information and report any errors as soon as you find them. You can get your free credit report from Other websites may offer you a free report but then sign you up for expensive monitoring services. is the only government-authorized service that offers truly free reports to every citizen every year.

Lock it down. It may be easy for you to use the same password everywhere, but it’s not safe to do that. Vary your passwords for financial and other sensitive sites, and change them every so often. You can use a free password keeper like LastPass to keep track of your passwords instead of writing them on a slip of paper that you keep on your desk! When a website offers a double-authentication service, like sending you a code by text message when you try to log in, opt into it.

Tear, rip, shred. Shredding (or even ripping or tearing up) documents is still a key way to keep your personal information out of the hands of people who shouldn't have it! Small shredders for home use are inexpensive to buy — and feeding paper through the machine can be oddly satisfying. Or, perhaps your workplace has a secured bin that a shredding company picks up every few weeks. You should also watch for free community shred events throughout the year, too.

In addition, here are a few things to remember:

Don't give away your private information. A bank should not contact you by phone or email to ask you for any personal information such as your password, date of birth, Social Security Number, Personal Identification Number (PIN), credit card account or other identifiable information. Be wary of giving this information to anyone.

Don't trust caller ID. It’s all too easy these days for scammers to “spoof” a phone number and falsify caller ID information that displays on your phone. When in doubt, ask to call the person back or ask for a supervisor.

Avoid giving refunds. One common scam is for a person to ask you to deposit a check into your bank account and then “send them the difference” or send a payment back to them right away. Often, the scammer’s check will bounce or be invalid, but the victim sends the money before learning about this. If someone asks you to send them money, be wary.

Beware of emails that request any of your personal information. You should not email sensitive banking information.

And remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

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