Money Monday

The IRS is gearing up for a busy spring and you're getting ready to file your 2018 tax returns! But, that also means tax scam season is here.

The Emotet trojan: This malware virus hunkers down in your computer and allows hackers to spy on and redirect your data. It's primarily spread by spam, or "phishing" emails.

The Emotet is now masquerading as the IRS. The scam email comes with a subject line that contains a variation on the phrase "tax transcript." It appears to be a summary of your tax return.

The IRS will not send unsolicited emails to the public, nor would they email a sensitive document such as a tax transcript.

Phone spoofers. Criminals call, claiming to be from a local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) office and have programmed their computers to display the TAC telephone number that appears on the taxpayer's caller ID.

These scammers are after your legitimate tax return or to get the illegitimate tax refund from the return they've created.

If the taxpayer becomes suspicious and questions the demand for tax payment, the scammer directs them to the IRS.gov website to look up the local TAC office phone number for verification. Scared, the scammed pays on a debit card.JUST HANG UP!

The Fake refund: Scammers file fraudulent tax returns and use taxpayers' real bank accounts for the deposit of the fraudulent refunds. They pretend to be the IRS or a debt collection agency to get the money back.

One solution: File early. Granted, this is not always possible when you have to wait for financial documents like W-2s and 1099s.

Another reason to file early: The IRS is already behind after the shutdown. They have 70,000 permanent employees for 155 million tax returns.

Make sure you know IRS scammers' tricks before they come to you. More importantly, make sure your parents know what to look out for.

Every Sunday, you see the Simply Money column in The Cincinnati Enquirer and online at cincinnati.com

Nancy from Highland Heights: I’m 59 and single. Is there anything specific or special I should be doing to plan for retirement since I’m not married?

If you save in a 401(k), 403(b) or similar employer-sponsored plan, you've probably asked yourself THIS question at some point: "How do I go about evaluating and selecting which funds to invest in?"

Studies have shown the varying approaches people take: they contribute equal amounts to ALL funds on their 401(k) menu… or they're overwhelmed, so they don't contribute anything… or they just pick funds that are listed first on their menu of choices. NONE OF THESE are great stragegies.

So how SHOULD you pick 401(k) funds? First off, here's something you SHOULDN'T do: don't look at the funds with the best past performance and just go with those. As every financial disclaimer says, "Past performance is not indicative of future results."

We generally recommend index funds versus actively managed funds.

Look for funds that provide broad US exposure. And to stay diversified, some international exposure can be good as well. And don't forget about bonds (these can act like shock absorbers).

Also, don't look at your 401(k) in a vaccum. Any decisions need to be made within the greater context of your financial goals. This includes the types of funds you pick as well as your investment mix of stocks and bonds.

If you’re completely overwhelmed, see if your 401(k) plan offers a Target Date Fund. This is a fund that “glides” towards your retirement year. The closer you get to that date, the less risk it will take (in theory).

While a Target Date Fund is a good starting point, we don’t recommend this kind of fund if you’re within five to 10 years of retirement – by this point, you should seek out customized retirement advice for your particular situation.

Don’t get cute with your 401(k). Keep it simple and view it as just one part of your overall financial plan.

Brian Thomas

Brian Thomas

Based in Cincinnati, OH, the Brian Thomas Morning Show covers news and politics, both local and national, from a conservative point of view. Read more

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