Compiled annually by the IRS, the “Dirty Dozen” is a list of common scams taxpayers may encounter in the coming months. While many of these scams peak during the tax filing season, they may be encountered at any time during the year.
Here is this year’s list:
1. Identity Theft
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.Taxpayers should secure personal information by protecting their computers and only giving out Social Security numbers when absolutely necessary.
2. Phone Scams
Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers. In recent weeks, the agency has seen a surge of these phone scams as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.
Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.
Phishing schemes using fake emails or websites are used by criminals to try to steal personal information. Typically, criminals pose as a person or organization you trust and/or recognize. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name, or pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. These criminals go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages, hoping that victims will take the bait so they can steal the victim’s money, passwords, Social Security number and identity.
4. Tax Return Preparer Fraud
About 60 percent of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but there are some dishonest tax preparers who set up shop each filing season. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee.
5. Hiding Money or Income Offshore
While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
The recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats--and the financial organizations that help them--show that it’s a bad bet to hide money and income offshore. The IRS offers the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to enable people to catch up on their filing and tax obligations and taxpayers are best served by coming in voluntarily and taking care of their tax-filing responsibilities.
6. Inflated Refund Claims
Taxpayers should be on the lookout for unscrupulous tax return preparers pushing inflated tax refund claims. Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims in by promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place. They might, for example, promise inflated refunds based on fictitious Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit, among others.Because taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their returns (even if it was prepared by someone else), those who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.
7. Fake Charities
Taxpayers should be aware that phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. For instance, following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists use a variety of tactics including contacting people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information.
8. Falsely Padding Deductions on Tax Returns
The IRS warns taxpayers that they should think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions, padding their claimed business expenses or including credits that they are not entitled to receive. Avoid the temptation of falsely inflating deductions or expenses on your return to underpay what you owe and possibly receive larger refunds.
9. Excessive Claims for Business Credits
Improper claims for business credits such as the fuel tax and the research credit are also on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list this year. The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use or use in farming. Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Still, the IRS routinely finds unscrupulous tax preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim the credit to inflate their refunds. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.
10. Falsifying Income to Claim Credits
Just like falsely claiming an expense or deduction you did not pay, claiming income you did not earn in order to secure larger refundable credits could have serious repercussions. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by tax preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee.Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else.
11. Abusive Tax Shelters
Phony tax shelters and structures to avoid paying taxes continues to be a problem and taxpayers should steer clear of these types of schemes as they can end up costing taxpayers more in back taxes, penalties, and interest than they saved in the first place.Don’t use abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them. The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and everyone should be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, seek an independent opinion if offered complex products.
12. Frivolous Tax Arguments
Taxpayers are also warned against using frivolous tax arguments to avoid paying their taxes. Examples include contentions that taxpayers can refuse to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds by invoking the First Amendment or that the only “employees” subject to federal income tax are employees of the federal government; and that only foreign-source income is taxable.Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. These arguments are wrong and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000.If you think you’ve been a victim of a tax scam, don’t hesitate to call.
For the past 16 years Todd Hickman has co-hosted a weekly financial radio show on NewsTalk 560AM KLVI, airing each Sunday at 11AM. You can reach Todd during the week at 409-840-6900 or by visiting his company’s website at http://savemyretirement.com.