Here we are on the first day of February! Today marks the first week that many people are starting in earnest to get their income tax filed. But beware of this scam when you're working with your tax preparer...

Obamacare tax penalty scam

Did you know there is no requirement for who can say they're a tax preparer? Almost anyone can hang a shingle and claim to be a tax preparer. Fortunately, most people who do tax work are earnestly trying to do a good job to help you. But unfortunately, because there are no barriers to entry, it's created an unlikely opportunity for crooks.

Under the Affordable Care Act, there are now penalties for not having health insurance. Many people have still chosen not to buy health care. However, most people who have not gotten coverage qualify under exemptions that would waive them out of having to pay the penalty.

Sounds fine, right? The problem now is the IRS reports some unsavory tax preparers are telling their clients that they owe the penalty and they have to pay it in cash or they can't file their return to get their refund. That's a big fat lie and those bad apples who try to pull this are pocketing the cash.

Know that any preparer who says this is lying. If you pay that money to a crook, there's no way to recover it later. If you do legitimately owe, you'll pay the money through your return. Never pay a preparer with cash for this penalty!

 

Beware of this scam after you get your refund

Meanwhile, here's another tax-related scam to keep your eyes out for as the weeks roll on during tax season.

Scammers are working overtime trying to get your money in a continuing phone scam. Sophisticated IRS impostors are reportedly calling people and demanding immediate payment. In some cases they're also impersonating local law enforcement and threatening you with immediate arrest unless you send untraceable money amounting in the thousands of dollars for back taxes that you supposedly owe.

Read more: 14 red flags that will get you audited by the IRS

Here's a closer look at how this IRS phone scam works

The scammers use phone spoofing to make their number come up as "IRS," and they already have the last four digits of your Social Security number -- both of which lends them an air of legitimacy. Here are some of their other tactics to watch out for:

  • They use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • They send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
  • They call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.

You're told to submit payment either by wire or by prepaid debit card. Know this: The IRS will *not* contact you by phone asking for money. They only contact you by snail mail if they want to get in touch with you. So if you get one of these calls, hang up the phone!

Read more: Fixing the broken tax code