Editor’s note: Content provided by the Internal Revenue Service. Consult your financial or tax adviser regarding your individual situation.
The Internal Revenue Service issues a list of the top 12 tax scams each year — known as the Dirty Dozen. The scams are illegal and can lead to problems for taxpayers, including significant penalties, interest and possible criminal prosecution. These scams don't just happen during the tax filing season; they can happen anytime during the year. Here are five scams from the 2010 Dirty Dozen list every taxpayer should be aware of this summer.
Phishing: Phishing is a tactic used by scam artists to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal or financial information in an electronic communication. Scams can take the form of e-mails, tweets or phony websites, and they try to mislead consumers by telling them they are entitled to a tax refund from the IRS and they must reveal personal information to claim it. Regardless of how official this e-mail may look and sound, the IRS never initiates unsolicited e-mail contact with taxpayers about their tax issues. Phishers use the personal information obtained to steal the victim's identity, access bank accounts, run up credit card charges or apply for loans in the victim's name. If you receive an e-mail that you suspect is a phishing attempt or directs you to an imitation IRS website, please forward it to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit IRS.gov and enter the keyword "phishing" for additional information.
Return Preparer Fraud: Dishonest tax return preparers can cause trouble for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. Such preparers are skimming a portion of their clients' refunds, charging inflated fees for tax preparation or attracting new clients by promising refunds that are too good to be true. To increase confidence in the tax system, the IRS is requiring all paid return preparers to register with the IRS, pass competency tests and attend continuing education.
Hiding Income Offshore: Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade income tax by hiding income in offshore banks and brokerage accounts. IRS agents continue to develop their investigations of these offshore tax avoidance transactions using information gained from more than 14,700 voluntary disclosures received last year. Taxpayers also evade taxes by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance plans.
Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions: The IRS continues to observe the misuse of tax-exempt organizations. This includes arrangements to improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets. The IRS also continues to investigate various schemes where donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can purchase the items back at a later date at a price the donor sets.
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 IRS.gov. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court.