If you file your taxes over the Internet, it's important to remember some common sense rules about how to protect your privacy and help prevent identity theft.

The information in your return contains everything that an unscrupulous third party needs to steal your identity, file tax returns on your behalf, steal your refund, and more.

How to recognize and avoid scams

There are many scams associated with filing your taxes. To help avoid some of the more common scams, you should:

Be realistic. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. From companies that promise to file your taxes for free, to Web sites that claim you don't have to pay income tax because it's unconstitutional--keep an eye out for deliberately misleading statements.

Be informed. Before you file your taxes online, spend a little time at the Web site for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Familiarize yourself with how to use the Internet to file your taxes, and with how the official IRS Web site looks. For information on the latest threats, visit the IRS Tax Fraud Alert page.

Never respond to unsolicited e-mail offers or requests for information. The IRS does not use e-mail to communicate any personal information, and legitimate tax-preparation companies should not approach you with unsolicited e-mail.

These messages are most likely identity-theft phishing scams. For more information, read How to recognize phishing e-mails or links. If you've been contacted by the IRS, you can call 1-800-829-1040 to find out if the contact was authentic.

To help protect against phishing scams, use Internet Explorer 8 and turn on SmartScreen Filter.

Make sure the Web site uses secure technology. If you’re filing your taxes on the Web, make sure that the Web address begins with https (for example, https://www.tailspintoys.com/) and check to see if a tiny locked padlock appears at the bottom right of the screen.

If you use Internet Explorer 8 you'll get another layer of protection with sites that use Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates. The address bar should turn green to alert you that there is more information available about the Web site. The identity of the Web site owner is also displayed on the address bar.

 

An EV SSL certificate not only helps ensures that the communication with a Web site is secure, but also includes information about the owner of the Web site, which has been identified by the Certification Authority (CA) issuing the SSL Certificate.

Choose your tax-preparation software with care. Ask people you trust for software recommendations.

Seek the advice of the IRS or a trusted tax professional before you participate in any tax-reduction scheme. Many offers to greatly reduce or eliminate your income tax payments are false.

If you try to take advantage of these so-called tax "opportunities," you could be wasting your money and committing a crime.

What to do if you suspect online tax fraud

If you think there's another person using your Social Security number to file income taxes, call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213.

If you suspect a company or an individual of committing tax fraud or not obeying tax laws, call the IRS at (800) 829-0433.

To find out how to report specific abuse, see Reporting Abusive Shelters, Fraud & Unscrupulous Tax Preparers.

For more information about reporting online fraud, see What to do if you’ve responded to a phishing scam.

To read more articles about taxes or to get advice from experts, visit the MSN Money site. You can also find many more pages of information about taxes all over the Web, but remember to be wary of following any advice you find.