As tax season begins to draw to an end, the Internal Revenue Service is issuing its annual “The Dirty Dozen” warning to consumers about fraud on and by taxpayers.
This year’s list is little changed from 2012, and is again headed up by identity theft. A growing problem every year worldwide, the IRS is stepping up its vigilance in this area, from establishing an Identity Protection Web Portal, and increased prosecution of offenders. Last year over $20 billion in fraudulent refunds were prevented, up from $14 billion in 2011.
Another scam is “phishing”, where taxpayers are sent fake e-mails asking them to provide the IRS with sensitive personal information such as social security numbers. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the IRS never will attempt to contact you by e-mail, text message or social media.
Tax fraud is not just committed by outsiders, however. Unscrupulous tax preparers are also lurking. The amount of fraud committed (or attempting to be committed) by taxpayers rises every year as well.
Beware of any tax preparer that offers to get you “free money” by claiming tax credits that you do not in reality qualify for. Some preparers have also been known to exaggerate wages or self-employment income to inflate refundable credits.
Taxpayers have also been known to try to avoid taxes with hiding income offshore. While offshore income was always reportable income, only in recent years did it come to light that many people were not in fact reporting it. In 2009 the IRS implemented an Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program that to date has 38,000 participants. In 2012, the program was extended indefinitely. Penalties for not reporting this income can be steep.
So whether it’s a scam artist, an unscrupulous tax preparer or just you, remember that the IRS is watching out for you AND over you.