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Tax day 2011: Four ways to protect your tax returns from data thieves

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A man fishes on the beach at sunset. Identity thieves sometimes carry out phishing scams by posing as the IRS and requesting personal information in an e-mail, letter, or phone call.
Album/Miguel Raurich/Newscom/File
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2. Watch out for phishing scams

If you believe you’ve received an e-mail from the IRS, you’re mistaken.

“Be careful about phone calls or e-mails from someone saying they’re from the IRS,” says Anne Wallace, president of the Identity Theft Assistance Center in Washington. “The IRS never e-mails taxpayers.”

Crooks posing as the IRS may request personal information or include attachments that contain malicious software. Or, they may pick up the phone to coax the information out of you. If you receive a call from somebody claiming to be an IRS agent, you can ask for an employee badge number, then call back the agency to confirm that the call was legitimate. And if you receive a letter in the mail, you may also call to make sure it’s real.

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