Tax season is underway.

This scene plays out all to commonly: You gather all of the paperwork, complete the forms and wait for a tax refund. Shortly after filing, you receive notice from the IRS that your request for a refund was denied; you were already given a refund based on your 2021 tax return.

Surprise! Welcome to the world of fraudulent tax returns.

A criminal accessed your personal data, including your Social Security number, filed an electronic return, was issued a tax refund based on your information and disappeared. These scams occur at an alarming rate, fed by data breaches — unauthorized access to personal information.

We have limited ability to contain data breaches beyond those for which we are responsible, such as providing unknown callers with personal information (state and federal government agencies do not call to request information). Most breaches occur beyond our reach, when criminals hack into data collected by companies, organizations or government agencies.

Finding out if you are the victim of a tax scam can be difficult. Be proactive. Check with your state tax department or the IRS to see if there are issues involving your records. Was your tax refund requested by someone else?

Contact information:

IRS: tinyurl.com/4tvth26b, or 800-829-1040;

Massachusetts: tinyurl.com/3ztm77b2, or 617-887-6367;

New York: tinyurl.com/5e657hzy, or 518-457-5149;

Vermont: tinyurl.com/ykyphrvx, or 800-828-2865.

File a police report with local law enforcement, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov, the IRS, and if the crime involves state taxes, your state tax department.

You can also preempt fraud. Register for online access to your tax records at the state and federal tax departments. That can freeze out criminals from creating a tax account in your name. File taxes electronically to expedite the process, and don’t forget to register for direct deposit.

Check tax accounts regularly to see if there is unusual, unexpected or unexplained activity. Tax season is painful enough. Don’t let scammers increase the misery.

Record-keeping scams

Have you noticed a flurry of advertisements for online investing and online financial record-keeping. These ads reappear every year, not coincidentally, as we struggle with the process of tax preparation or begin considering how to invest tax refunds or mandatory retirement account withdrawals.

The ads, for the most part, are legitimate and stress the ability to accomplish tasks economically, rapidly and with simplicity; money management made easy with no accountant or financial adviser. Some include the label “free” or, in the case of investment programs, actually offer to provide some money to invest.

Free is good! Maybe! If you follow this column, you have likely seen this comment: If a service or product is offered free, you are not the consumer; you are the product.

Before taking up one of these offers, ask questions and request responses in writing: Is any of my information provided to others (sold, traded, given)? Are there any fees, commissions or expenses? Is this a trial enrollment with out-of-pocket expenses appearing after an initial time period? How is privacy ensured for my activity (a real concern when data is stored in the cloud)? Will my use of the service result in targeted advertisements? Can I disable tracking cookies?

AI scams

Scam alert! As we have seen, criminals are adept at applying the latest technology to steal from victims.

Most recently, scam calls are being placed with AI (artificial intelligence) — calls able to understand some verbal responses.

The scam begins with a “friendly” voice asking a question (Are you interested in lower insurance rates?). The computer making the call waits for an appropriate answer, and then directs your call to a call center. If you respond with an answer that does not fit the program, the “caller” repeats the question. Failure to get a programmed response results in a dropped call.

The best action to take is not to answer calls from numbers you do not recognize. If you answer one (there is often a noticeable click), hang up and report the call to your telephone service provider.

Questions or Comments? Email egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.: gnat-tv.org.