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Consumer Reports warns of new IRS scam

Scammers targeting people covered under the Affordable Care Act

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Scammers are at it again, claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service. But, they’re now taking aim at people who are covered under the Affordable Care Act and exploiting confusion about the program.

This latest scam is an email targeting people with insurance through the Affordable Care Act, alleging they owe additional money for their coverage.

“This notice is just a further indication of how sophisticated and creative that scammers and identity thieves have become,” said identity theft expert Adam Levin.

A closer look at the email reveals three red flags:

  • Consumer Reports says that the IRS will never send you an email out of the blue. If money is owed the notice will be sent by regular mail.
  • The fake notice may instructs that the check be made out to “I.R.S.” A real tax check is made out to the U.S. Treasury, not the IRS.
  • Also, the email may ask you to send the check to an address that is not an official IRS processing center.
  • If you get this type of fake IRS email, do not open any attachments or click on any links it may have.  Immediately forward it to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it. Consumer Reports recommends you then also delete the email from your Trash file.

    Levin says there may be some instances of IRS scam letters being delivered by regular mail, too. You can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to ask whether a notice you have received is actually from the agency. You can also consult a reliable tax professional to get advice about whether the notice is genuine and how to handle it.

    Computer security

    Some computer security software is free and some is not. Consumer Reports breaks down some of what's available and the benefits they offer.

    Free anti-malware programs are mostly downloads from such names as Avira and AVG. But there's also the Microsoft Security Essentials anti-malware program that's available as a free download for computers that run older versions of Windows. On Windows 8 computers, it's called Windows Defender.

    Free security suites offer not only malware protection but add a firewall and in some cases, other extras such as a child filter. But Consumer Reports says none of the free suites it tested include some other features that are often found on pay suites such as anti-spam protection, built-in backup software, and a browser toolbar that will alert you when you're visiting sites that host malware.

    Pay security suites, from brands that include Symantec and McAfee, promise comprehensive protection in one package. They offer not only malware protection but also a firewall, an anti-spam filter, and other extras. The latter usually include a child filter, often include a browser toolbar that will alert you when you're visiting sites that host malware, and sometimes include a file shredder and file backup software.

    Consumer Reports says you typically buy the program online, either by downloading it or upgrading from a free trial version carried on your PC. You can use a suite on as many as three computers in the same household. Prices typically range from $60 to $100, and include a first year of service. After that, you'll typically pay another $40 to $80 per year to renew service.

    Spam filters offer supplemental protection that you may want because your e-mail program isn't adequately filtering out unwanted messages. Often built into pay suites, free options include SPAMfighter, which Consumer Reports recommends.

    Anti-phishing toolbars are free and are available for all major browsers. They provide extra protection against phishing sites, especially if you're using an older browser version or just want extra protection.

    File shredders permanently erases files. Consumer Reports says deleting a file from your hard drive does not remove all electronic traces of it, which can allow someone who accesses or inherits your computer to recover some or all of the file's data. To eliminate that possibility, you need file-shredding software. Some pay suites include one, or Consumer Reports says you can download Eraser free from eraser.heidi.ie.

    For more information from Consumer Reports on computer security and security software, see its Security Software Buying Guide