The IRS recently unveiled its list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams, with a warning to taxpayers not to fall prey to the claims of dishonest financial advisors, unscrupulous tax preparers, or other scammers. Here are some of the more common tax scams from the IRS’ list.
Tax Scam 1: Hiding Income Offshore
Many dishonest promoters may try to convince you to hide your money in offshore banks or brokerage accounts, through offshore banks, or trusts, in order to avoid paying taxes on it. Unfortunately, that’s illegal, and if you’re caught, you’ll be on the hook. If you’re being pitched one of these deals, be wary. And if you have used one of these schemes in the past, the IRS has a voluntary disclosure initiative that allows you to come clean through August 31, 2011.
Tax Scam 2: Go Phishing
Smart scammers can design official-looking emails designed to get you to reveal personal information, such as a Social Security number or credit card number. Beware any email that purports to come from the IRS. The IRS will not send you an email seeking this sort of information. If they plan to audit you, they will send you a letter or show up in person. So, beware an email that purports to come from the agency.
Tax Scam 3: Bad Preparers
While most tax preparers are honest, some unscrupulous preparers may skim a portion of your refund, charge inflated fees, or promise a huge refund. No preparer should promise a big refund, or try to pressure you to take deductions or credits you didn’t earn. The IRS has recently stepped up its enforcement of paid preparers, but you still need to do your homework to ensure you’ve hired an honest one.
Tax Scam 4: False Refunds
Scammers will frequently file fake information returns, then try to claim a refund based on the bogus information. Sometimes scammers will fabricate a Form 4852 (replacement W-2) or Form 1099 as a way to reduce tax liability or claim an undeserved refund. If someone tries to get you to go along with such a scheme, don’t let it happen. If you’re caught, you could be on the hook for a $5,000 penalty. Similarly, a scam artist might try to use your information to file a false return and claim a refund. This happens often with family or friends of taxpayers, so if someone asks to use your information in order to file a false return, don’t give in to temptation.
Tax Scam 5: Bogus Charitable Deductions
Be careful when claiming noncash contributions to a charity – there are strict rules for claiming the value of noncash contributions, and the IRS specifically looks for donations reported at an inflated value.
Tax Scam 6: Bad IRAs
Beware any financial advisor who suggests that you transfer appreciated assets into an IRA, or proposes any other scheme to get around the IRA contribution limits that apply to you.
Tax Scam 7: Hidden Corporations
The IRS is also working with states to find corporations that have been formed specifically to hide income and prevent the owners of the corporation from reporting it, or allow them to report fictitious deductions. If a financial advisor is suggesting that you establish “shell” companies to shield income, take a second look.
While you may not think of some of these as true tax scams, the IRS looks at them that way, and really, that’s all that matters.