The Internal Revenue Service has instituted a new refund policy. Having discovered substantial overcharges, it is using an electronic process...

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The Internal Revenue Service has instituted a new refund policy. Having discovered substantial overcharges, it is using an electronic process to return the funds to the taxpayer.

Those who qualify for these refunds — which are often modest amounts under $100 — are notified by e-mail. They are directed to a Web site, where they enter a Social Security number for identification and a bank-card number for return of the funds.

Maybe I had you for a minute, or you saw through this right away. In fact, if you finished the entire paragraph without any red flags emerging, then you really haven’t been listening for the last several years.

I’ve done my part to hammer these messages home: You should never divulge your entire Social Security number to anyone, and give up only the last four numbers to a bank that you know.

Do not enter your bank-card number on any Web site that is not familiar or secure. And the government does not conduct any important business by e-mail. If you owe it — or it owes you — notification will arrive through the post office.

For some people, the IRS qualifies as a trusted site, especially with that fancy insignia. In these cases the third rule trumps the other two.

Television station WISH, in Indianapolis, reports a recent scam in which a computer-savvy viewer came close to disclosing identity data online. The “IRS” contacted him with news that he had miscalculated his refund and was due $93.60, which sounded like a legitimate amount.

He followed the link, then backed out at the last minute. A call to the IRS uncovered the scam, and another to the local TV station helped to spread the news and prevent anyone else from making the same mistake.

After five years of wall-to-wall warnings, it’s easy to denigrate the digital Neanderthals among us who are unsophisticated enough to miss the obvious cues and know instinctively what to avoid.

After a while, you put them in the same category as people who walk through poison ivy or sit outside for hours without sunscreen.

But once we take our tolerance pill, this becomes a valuable part of modern life. You don’t want to see anyone lose a bank account balance or even get a bad sunburn.

But with every near miss there is a lesson learned. As long as this knowledge is not universal (everyone by now knows to not take a toaster into the bathtub), a bump in the road serves as a reminder to everyone who comes close to making a similar mistake.

And we are all less vigilant at one time or another. A message from the “IRS” promising a $93 refund will catch our eye, in a way that a chance at pulling $1 million out of Nigeria will not.

With this potential fallibility in mind, every taxpayer should recognize the Web address www.irs.gov and not have anything to do with any other address. Once there, we need to search for “tax scams” and familiarize ourselves with the latest electronic malfeasance.

These days, anything less is like taking a toaster into a bathtub.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.