Tomorrow is the annual deadline for the filing of individual income tax returns for calendar year 2017.  The Internal Revenue Service expects to receive approximately 32 million returns in the final days leading up to April 17.  In addition, the IRS expects to receive about 12 million last-minute requests for extensions of the April 17 filing deadline.  With millions of taxpayers scrambling to meet tomorrow’s deadline, we provide this recap of the IRS’s annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for 2018 and a link to our prior blog posts addressing each one.

Compiled annually by the IRS, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter any time of the year, but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or seek help from tax professionals. To help protect taxpayers, the IRS highlighted each of these scams on twelve consecutive days leading up to the filing deadline to help raise awareness.

1. “Phishing” scams: These schemes typically take the form of fake emails or websites looking to steal personal tax information and often increase in frequency during tax season.

2. Phone scams where criminals pose as IRS agents: In aggressive phone scams, criminals pose as IRS agents in hopes of stealing money. During filing season, the IRS generally sees a surge in scam phone calls threatening such things as arrest, deportation, and/or license revocation if the victim does not pay a phony tax bill. In a new variation, the IRS has observed that identity thieves are filing fraudulent tax returns with refunds going into the real taxpayer’s bank account, followed shortly thereafter by a threatening phone call trying to convince the taxpayer to send the money to the fraudster.

3. Identity theft: Even though instances of tax-related identity theft have declined markedly in recent years, the IRS warns that this practice is still widespread and remains serious enough to earn a spot on its annual list of tax scams. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file a fraudulent tax return claiming a refund.

4. Tax return preparer fraud: With more than half of the nation’s taxpayers relying on someone else to prepare their tax return, the IRS reminds consumers today to be on the lookout for unscrupulous tax preparers looking to make a fast buck from honest people seeking tax assistance. The IRS recognizes that the majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. But there are some dishonest preparers who operate each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft, and other scams that hurt honest taxpayers.

5. Fake charities: Scam groups masquerade as charitable organizations, luring people to make donations to groups or causes that don’t actually qualify for a tax deduction.

6. Falsely inflated refunds:  Scam artists frequently prey on older Americans, low-income taxpayers, and others with promises of big refunds.

7.  Improper claims for business credits:  Two common credits targeted for abuse include the research credit and the fuel tax credit. While both credits have legitimate uses, there are specific criteria that must be met in order to qualify for them.

8.  Falsely padding deductions:  Common areas targeted by unscrupulous tax preparers involve overstating deductions such as charitable contributions, padding business expenses, or improperly claiming credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit.

9.  Falsified income and fake Form 1099 scams:   A common tax scam the IRS sees each year involves falsifying income in order to claim refundable credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Another frequent scheme involves the filing of false Forms 1099 and/or bogus financial instruments such as bonds, bonded promissory notes, or worthless checks.

10.  Frivolous tax arguments:  Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish legal claims to avoid paying their taxes. Such arguments have been repeatedly thrown out of court.

11.  Abusive tax shelters:  These sophisticated schemes, particularly those involving micro-captive insurance shelters, are peddled by promoters and others to avoid taxes.

12.  Offshore tax evasion: Offshore tax compliance has been a major focus for the IRS in recent years, and taxpayers who avoid taxes by hiding money or assets in unreported offshore accounts should remain wary given the continuing focus on such schemes by both the IRS and the Justice Department.

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