Last year, millions of taxpayers submitted returns and nearly $324 billion in taxes were refunded. With more than 155 million returns being filed this year, there are plenty of opportunities for determined thieves to illegally obtain and abuse your personal information, scam you into losing money, or convince you to participate in questionable behavior. That is why the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) produced its dirty dozen list, a review of 12 tax-time scenarios that you may encounter and should steer clear of during the busy tax season.
IRS Dirty Dozen
Always be skeptical of emails from unfamiliar senders. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers through email. If you receive a message from an unfamiliar person or website, do not click on the email. The communication may be a phishing attempt from a scammer trying to steal your personal information.
Threatening phone calls from someone impersonating IRS agents have become more common in recent years. Scammers threaten taxpayers with a range of unfortunate scenarios from arrest to deportation. The criminals behind these scams are determined to trick you or your family.
Identity theft is a year-round issue, but this is especially true at tax time as criminals are seeking opportunities to file fraudulent returns in your name. The IRS is taking steps to curb this illegal behavior but warns you to be protective of your social security number to avoid becoming an identity-theft victim during tax season.
Return Preparer Fraud
Taxpayers have more options when selecting return preparers than ever before. While many tax professionals are honest and helpful, the IRS warns you to be cautious of “unscrupulous return preparers.” These preparers pop up every tax season to take advantage of individuals by encouraging fraud, engaging in identity theft, or committing other scams.
Like bogus return preparers, the IRS cautions individuals to be suspicious of fake charities during tax season. Taxpayers should take the time to fully vet a charitable organization before donating—especially organizations with names that are eerily similar to well-known national charities.
Inflated Refund Claims
The promise of an inflated refund is a major red flag. Take note if someone asks you to sign a blank return, promises large returns without reviewing any financial information, or charges a fee based on a percentage of your refund.
Excessive Claims for Business Credits
Taxpayers can claim certain business credits when filing a return, including the fuel tax credit or the research credit. However, the IRS warns against misusing these claims as they are quite specific. For example, the fuel tax credit is specific to off-highway business use, such as farming.
Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns
Deductions can be beneficial, but the IRS warns against the temptation to overinflate deductions for potentially larger refunds. Deductions, such as charitable contributions and business expenses, or credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit, should be accurately and honestly claimed.
Falsifying Income to Claim Credits
Criminals may try to convince you to create income out of thin air to falsely qualify for tax credits. Taxpayers should recognize that they are legally responsible for the content included in their return, regardless of the influence of others. Falsifying income can lead to back taxes, interest, penalties, and even criminal prosecution.
Abusive Tax Shelters
Be wary of tax-avoidance schemes. Like inflated refunds, if a tax shelter scenario sounds too good to be true, be cautious. The IRS suggests taxpayers seek an independent counsel to vet any complex tax products they are offered.
Frivolous Tax Arguments
Taxpayers have the right to contest tax liabilities in a court of law, but using frivolous arguments to avoid paying taxes has real consequences—a penalty of $5,000, in fact.
Offshore Tax Avoidance
Hiding income offshore should not be considered as an option. The IRS suggests taxpayers voluntarily catch up on their tax filings and offers the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to allow individuals that opportunity.
Some of the scenarios may sound familiar and others may be new to you. Be vigilant and be cautious of promises that are too good to be true. They often are.
For more information regarding the IRS dirty dozen list, click here.
This information was gathered from IRS.gov.