Published: Jan 18, 2011 4:37 AM EST
Updated: Jan 18, 2011 1:32 AM EST

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - Authorities say tax time presents a prime time for thieves.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention unit is out with its annual warning for tax time fraud.  They say filers need to watch out for e-mails or phone calls claiming to be from the IRS.

"They come out every year.  The e-mails, the fake websites, asking for your information," said accountant Bill Antar with Cape Coral Tax & Accounting Services.

Accountants and tax preparers say they warn their clients all the time.

"There's times in the past I've had people come in almost in tears, scared that the IRS is going to take all of their property and things like that, and its just a total scam," said Vern Langford with Liberty Tax Services at the Coralwood Shopping Center in Cape Coral.

Langford says the tax time fraud doesn't seem widespread, but it happens enough to be concerned.

The top red flag to look out for at tax time: the IRS will never try to contact you over e-mail.

"No e-mail from the IRS is legit," Antar said.

"IRS doesn't e-mail you directly, doesn't call you," said Hugo Striedingr of Liberty Tax Services.  "The IRS is going to send you a letter."

Authorities also warn of fake phone calls asking for bank account information to deposit your refund.

Also, watch out for e-mails warning of audits or tax law changes containing bad links to fake websites that can steal information.

And be aware of promises to deliver a refund right now if you itemize deductions. The late extension of Bush-era tax cuts means you can't file such a return for another month.

"You're not going to be able to do that until mid-February because the IRS is not ready with the forms or the software," Langford said.

Preparers say when in doubt, ask an accountant or tax professional.

"People have a natural fear of the IRS and they don't want to get in trouble, so they feel like they should do whatever's asked of them, and that's just not true," Antar said.

If you receive a suspicious e-mail or phone call from someone claiming to be the IRS, contact your local sheriff's office fraud line (239-477-1242 in Lee County).  You can also notify the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.