CLEVELAND — It's hard to believe, but tax season is officially upon us.
The IRS will begin processing returns starting the week of January 23rd.
Cyber crooks are well aware and looking to cash in big time.
Experts are warning criminals are actively looking to steal your most personal information and grab up those tax returns. The scams are becoming more and more elaborate through phone, email and social media.
The Better Business Bureau wants you to be extra cautious and think twice about how you're filing your taxes and who you're giving that info to.
As you gather your paperwork and begin prepping your tax returns—stay alert.
"We get calls and complaints from consumers every year that they've been duped by impersonation scams," Sue McConnell, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Cleveland said.
The Better Business Bureau is keeping a close eye on tax scams and fake IRS agents trying to contact you. The national branch of the BBB reports during 2021 there were at least 52 thousand reports to the IRS for tax scams.
Experts say your best bet is to be proactive and file as soon as you can.
The earlier you file your taxes; the less likely crooks can file under your name and impersonate you.
"The earlier you get it in, the quicker that they can respond and process it. And so, I always tell people about it early because it just gives you a little more breathing room," LeAnna Miller, CFO and Tax Strategist said.
If you're concerned about data breaches or your information being compromised, request an "identity protection pin" from the IRS. It's an added layer of protection and acts as a password of sorts.
In addition, experts say remember the IRS will never call you or threaten you. The only communication from the agency will come through certified mail.
If you do receive a call, the call would occur after you had been previously contacted by mail regarding said issue.
McConnell stresses do not buy into the pressure of bogus text messages and social media posts.
There is no legitimacy to what you may see on Facebook or Twitter over pressures to pay a third party. And if there is a data breach, you would be contacted by the government.
"Scammers love to scare. They love to panic people because it puts you in a situation where you're not thinking clearly," McConnell said.
Also, be on the lookout for questionable email requests. Always check who is sending said email. Misspelled words and strange formatting are big red flags. If it's not coming from a certified .gov email account, it's not real.
And lastly, with sports betting now legal in Ohio—remember that if you win big, you must report your cash prize.
"If once your profit from sports betting goes over $600, the company that you're going through is required to send you and the IRS --and send out a 1099 miscellaneous," Miller said.
McConnell stresses if you feel something is off, don't hesitate to report it to the BBB or the IRS.
You can do so here:
And each year the United Way and other agencies offer free tax preparation services.
To see if you qualify, click here: