Consumer Watchdog: The IRS Reveals Dirty Dozen Tax Scams

Tax return check

Updated for 2016

Tax time is high season for scams and identity theft. In fact, tax-refund fraud is expected to hit $21 billion this year. We’ve alerted you to some of the tactics crooks use during tax season like pretending to call as an IRS agent demanding payment, email scams saying your tax payment got rejected or that you owe back taxes, or simply stealing your W2 then filing your tax return and routing your refund to another bank account. The IRS also has its own list of 12 scams used to part you with your hard-earned money (or that they think you might be tempted to do).

We want you to be aware of every way a thief might try to take advantage of you during the often frustrating and trying time of filing taxes.

Here are the Dirty Dozen tax scams from the IRS:

1. Phone Scams

This scam is the most prevalent way a crook will try to use tax time to get your money. A fraudster will call you impersonating an IRS officer claiming you owe more money (or back taxes) and need to pay it now or risk being arrested, deported, getting your driver’s license revoked or whatever clever scare tactic he can come up with. Stay calm, never give out personal information and immediately hang up and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484 and file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant (choose “Other” and then “Impostor Scams”).

[Learn how to protect yourself from tax scams here.]

2. Phishing

If it smells fishy, it probably is! The IRS won’t send you an email out of the blue about a refund or back taxes. In fact, first contact from the IRS almost always still comes via snail mail and not email or phone. If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS, don’t click any links until you contact the IRS directly to confirm it’s valid. The crooks are looking to steal your personal information.

[Read more about how to protect against Phishing Scams here.]

3. Identity Theft

Getting your identity stolen at any point during the year is a major hassle and could be costly. But getting your identity stolen at tax time is probably because a crook is filing for a tax return using your name and getting your refund first (or a fake version of your refund). One of the best ways to defend against this is to file your taxes as early as possible. Also be sure to track all your W2 or 1099 forms and reach out to an employer immediately if you haven’t received your forms by early February. Crooks are not above stealing your tax forms and using them to file.

[Learn how to prevent and deal with identity theft here.]

4. Return Preparer Fraud

Looking for a good deal is great, but don’t go to cheap tax preparer (accountant) if he or she isn’t credible. Do your due diligence before giving over all your personal information to an accountant. Unfortunately, some of them use tax season as a chance to steal people’s identities.

5. Offshore Tax Avoidance

This one is on you. Don’t hide your money offshore, because you’ll be paying big time when Uncle Sam tracks it down. You can voluntarily admit to having an offshore account (even if you had one by accident – perhaps while working internationally) through the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

6. Inflated Refund Claims

It’s fine if a tax prep software company promises the biggest return compared to competitors, but don’t trust anyone claiming to get you an inflated refund. Never sign a blank return and be wary of anyone promising a big return without even looking at your information. Also, don’t agree to pay fees based on a percentage of a refund. This scam is typically perpetuated via word of mouth, flyers in storefronts and targets community and church groups.

7. Fake Charities

Check out any charity before donating. This is good practice year-round, but fake charities become especially popular during tax season to prey on people receiving refunds. Use tools like GuideStar.org to see if a charity is legit.

8. Hiding Income with Fake Documents

Much like hiding money offshore – this tax scam is on you to avoid. Don’t attempt to fake taxable income by filing false Form 1099s or other documents to inflate your tax refund. You are legally responsible for what is on your returns, regardless of who prepares them.

9. Abusive Tax Shelters

The IRS is committed to cracking down on abusive tax structures/ tax avoidance schemes and persecuting people who create and sell them. Be wary of anyone pushing tax shelters that sound like a great deal.

10. Falsifying Income to Claim Credits

Just report what you’ve earned. It’s really basic. Falsifying your income in anyway will not end well for you, no matter what a con artist tells you.

11. Excessive Claims for Fuel Tax Credits

Some prepares may try to talk you into making a fuel tax credit claim on your return. Be wary! The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, typically for farming. If you aren’t a farmer, it’s doubtful this tax credit is for you.

12. Frivolous Tax Arguments

Yes, you have the right to contest your tax liabilities in court. But don’t let a scam artist sell you snake oil. Often times frivolous tax arguments not only fail to hold up in court but filing a frivolous tax return results in a penalty of $5,000.

Be sure to check out the Dirty Dozen tax scams directly on IRS.gov and contact the IRS and FTC directly if you believe you’ve been a victim of a tax scam.

Think You’re a Victim of a Tax Scam?

Scams need to be reported immediately to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also hear an example of a scam IRS call here.

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