Hiding income offshore, identity theft and preparer fraud topped the IRS’s list of tax scams in 2011. The Internal Revenue Service issues an annual list of the top 12 tax scams, known as the “Dirty Dozen.” These scams are illegal and can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution.
Here are five year-round scams every taxpayer should know about.
1. Hiding Income Offshore The IRS aggressively pursues taxpayers involved in abusive offshore transactions and the promoters who facilitate or enable these schemes. Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks and brokerage accounts, or by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance plans.
In February, the IRS announced a second voluntary disclosure initiative to bring offshore money back into the U.S. tax system. The new voluntary disclosure initiative will be available through Aug. 31, 2011.
2. Phishing Scam artists use phishing to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal or financial information. Scams take the form of e-mails, phony websites or phone calls that offer a fictitious refund or threaten an audit or investigation to lure victims into revealing personal information. The IRS never initiates unsolicited e-mail contact with taxpayers about their tax issues. Phishers use the information to steal the victim’s identity, access their bank accounts and credit cards or apply for loans. Please forward suspicious scams to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit www.irs.gov, keyword phishing, for additional information.
3. Return Preparer Fraud Dishonest tax return preparers cause trouble for taxpayers by skimming a portion of the client’s refund or charging inflated fees for tax preparation. They attract new clients by promising refunds that are too good to be true. To increase confidence in the tax system, the IRS now requires all paid return preparers to register with the IRS, pass competency tests and attend continuing education. Taxpayers can report suspected return preparer fraud to the IRS on Form 3949-A, Information Referral.
4. Filing False or Misleading Forms The IRS continues to see false or fraudulent tax returns filed to obtain improper tax refunds.
Scammers often use information from family or friends to file false or fraudulent returns, so beware of requests for such data. Don’t claim deductions or credits you are not entitled to and never willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you participate in such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution. The IRS takes refund fraud seriously, has programs to aggressively combat it and stops the vast majority of incorrect refunds.
5. Frivolous Arguments Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage people to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. If a scheme seems too good to be true, it probably is. The IRS has a list of frivolous legal positions that taxpayers should avoid on www.irs.gov. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court repeatedly.
For the full list of 2011 Dirty Dozen tax scams or to find out how to report suspected tax fraud, visit www.irs.gov.