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Wednesday October 22, 2014

Washington News

Washington Hotline

IRS Top Tax Scams

Each year the IRS publishes the "Dirty Dozen" tax scams. A February 19 letter from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen listed multiple potential scams that could victimize American taxpayers.

Koskinen noted, "Taxpayers should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name. These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing emails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues."

The top five tax scams this year are identity theft, phone fraud, fake websites, "free money" refunds and unscrupulous tax preparers.

1. Identity Theft – The identity thief typically acquires your name and Social Security number and is an early filer. He or she attempts to file a tax return with your identity and obtain a large refund. The IRS reported a 70% increase in identity theft tax fraud investigations in 2013. It has substantially increased its efforts to address potential identity theft and tax fraud. If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. There also is information on identity theft on www.irs.gov.

2. Phone Fraud – There are scam phone callers who claim to be from the IRS or state government. Typically, they will use common names and claim that you owe taxes. If you do not immediately pay taxes to them, they threaten to revoke your driver's license or take other action. Frequently, the first person hangs up and within five minutes a second caller claims to be a police officer or from the Department of Motor Vehicles. He or she confirms the first message and demands payment. The IRS has a protection line at 1-800-829-1040. If you think you have been called by a fraudulent person claiming to be from the government, you also can use the FTC Complaint Assistant at FTC.gov.

3. Fake Email or Website – Phishing is the computer term for sending a fake email with a link to what claims to be a government website. The goal of the sender is to persuade the person to click on the link and then enter personal information. Using a Social Security Number or banking information, the sender then can commit identity theft or financial theft. Taxpayers need to understand that the IRS will not contact them by email. Unsolicited email is not from the IRS. Anyone who receives a "phishing" email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

4. "Free Money" Refunds – Some scammers will use fliers, ads, store fronts and word of mouth to claim that everyone can receive large refunds. Many scammers have used informal networks such as community groups or church groups to promote their service. They claim that everyone should receive a substantial "free money" tax refund. The scammers prepare tax returns with inflated deductions and improper credits. The victims pay a substantial fee and file the return to claim their large refund. Unfortunately, IRS income levels affect distribution of various Social Security, veterans, low-income housing and other government benefits. As a result, some individuals have experienced an interruption in their other government payments because they improperly reported their income. Taxpayers should be on guard for preparers who charge a large fee and do not provide a copy of the tax return.

5. Unscrupulous Tax Preparer – Most tax preparers are honest persons. However, some regularly commit refund fraud. They either do not report the correct income or claim improper deductions or credits. The tax preparer is required to include the IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) on the return. If the tax preparer is improper or abusive, the taxpayer should file IRS Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. This may be downloaded on irs.gov.

Published February 21, 2014


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