|Tax scams criminals and cheats try to get away with year-round
Year after year, criminals try to scam certain taxpayers. Year after year, certain taxpayers resort to schemes in an effort to put one over on the IRS. These cons occur year-round, not just during tax season.
In response to their frequency, the IRS has listed the 12 biggest offenses – scams that you should recognize, schemes that warrant penalties and/or punishment.
• Identity theft: Theft of federal tax refunds climbed 400 percent from 2011 to 2013. Cyberspace isn’t always the scene of the crime: thieves can steal your mail or rifle through your trash. If you are a victim, the IRS isn’t even obligated to tell you if the crook has been caught.
• Phishing: If you get an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS or the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), it is a scam. Neither agency emails taxpayers out of the blue seeking information. If such an email lands in your inbox, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Phone shakedowns: Each year, criminals call up taxpayers and allege that they owe the IRS money, which must be paid quickly via wire transfer or a pre-loaded debit card. Visual and aural tricks can lend authenticity to the ruse: the caller ID may show a toll-free number and background noise may suggest a call center. The caller may know the last four digits of your Social Security Number, or mention a phony IRS employee badge number. After the initial call, there may be a follow-up call or email from “the DMV” or “the police.” Such behavior can be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484.
• Sham tax preparation services: While there are many good, legitimate small businesses providing tax preparation, there are also some con artists out there who aim to rip off SSNs and personal information and grab phantom refunds. Worth noting, as always: you are legally responsible for what’s on your 1040 form, even if a third party prepares it.
• Tax preparers exaggerating/swiping refunds: In this scenario, the scammers prepare and file 1040s, but they charge big fees up front, claim refunds that are way out of line, and deposit some or all of the undeserved refund in a bank account. They also avoid giving the taxpayer a copy of the filed return.
• Bogus charities: An old wisecrack says you can make a lot of money running a non-profit organization. Some taxpayers try as well, claiming they are gathering funds for hurricane victims, an overseas relief effort, an outreach ministry and so on.
You can always ask them for visual proof of their charity’s tax-exempt status, and if you are near a computer or smartphone, you can visit irs.gov and use their Exempt Organizations Select Check search box.
A specious charity may ask you for cash donations and/or your SSN and banking information.
• Phony income, expenses and exemptions: Some taxpayers exaggerate or falsify incomes in pursuit of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the fuel tax credit and other big federal tax perks. A fraudulent claim for the fuel tax credit can backfire into a penalty of as much as $5,000. Once caught, taxpayers may be on the hook for repaying the credit and refund amounts with interest and penalties, and may face criminal prosecution.
• Lying on Forms 4852 or 1099: Some individuals send the IRS “corrected” 1099s or 4852s that are lies, claiming they earned nothing last year despite what their employers reported.
• Concealed offshore income: Not all taxpayers adequately report offshore income, and if you don’t, you are a lawbreaker to the IRS.
You could be prosecuted, or at least contend with fines and penalties. The IRS restarted its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) in 2012 to give taxpayers who were negligent or guilty a chance to come clean.
• Deceits using LLCs, LLPs and offshore credit/debit cards: While the entities and credit/debit cards may be legitimate, some taxpayers use them in multi-layered, flow-through schemes to hide taxable income or true ownership of assets.
• Incredible trusts: Properly structured trusts can help taxpayers defer or reduce taxes, and in some cases legally avoid them. Specious trusts – created with or without the “help” of unprincipled tax and estate consultants – can result in an IRS crackdown.
• Frivolous arguments: There are seminar speakers and books claiming that federal taxes are illegal and unconstitutional, and that Americans only have an implied obligation to pay them. These and other arguments crop up occasionally when people owe back taxes, and at present they carry little weight in the courts and before the IRS. Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code imposes income tax on all Americans. IRC Section 6072 establishes April 15 as the annual federal tax deadline.
Watch out for these ploys – and watch so you don’t run afoul of tax law.
Ken Weise, an LPL Financial Advisor, provided this article. He can be reached at 707-584-6690. Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC. The opinions of this material are for information purposes only.