COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s National Consumer Protection Week, and the Internal Revenue Service wants Ohioans to be on the alert for tax-related scams. From crooks trying to obtain taxpayers’ personal and financial information to fleece them of their hard-earned money, to con artists trying to entice others to join them in their fraudulent tax avoidance scams – information from the IRS can help taxpayers safely navigate through this year’s tax return filing season.
Tax scams can take a number of forms, according to Jennifer Jenkins, IRS spokesperson for Ohio. They can be very general in scope, or target very specific segments of the population. Some tax scams are limited to a local area, while others may expand nationwide. “If something smells fishy – don’t get involved with it. Be especially cautious anytime someone asks for PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for credit cards or bank accounts.”
Out-of-the-blue emails claiming to be from the IRS are a definite red flag of an attempted scam. “Scammers use the IRS name or logo to make the email look authentic,” said Jenkins. “Someone somewhere is phishing – baiting you into responding with information that he or she can use to access your bank or other accounts, to steal your identity, to download malicious code onto your computer, or all of the above.”
If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS: do not reply to the message; do not open any attachments (they may contain malware that could infect your computer); do not click on any links; and do not enter any confidential information. You may forward the email to the IRS at phishing@IRS.gov, or simply delete it.
“If you receive an unexpected call, fax or letter from someone claiming to be from the IRS asking about your taxes and seeking sensitive information, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to determine if we really are trying to contact you,” Jenkins said. “Also, don’t be misled by so-called IRS websites ending in .com, .net, or .org. The official IRS website is www.IRS.gov.”
Participating in tax avoidance schemes is also risky business for taxpayers who are simply trying to shave a few dollars from their tax bill. Promoters of these ruses often use hooks like, I can get you a big refund – for a fee! and The IRS doesn’t want you to know about this! and So new, your tax professional doesn’t even know about it! Promoters of tax avoidance scams often advertise at investment or tax seminars, through local media or on the internet.
“The reason these scams sound too good to be true is because they are too good to be true,” Jenkins said. “There are definite tip-offs that someone’s trying to reel you into a tax avoidance scam. Are you being asked to underreport your income, intentionally omit income, overstate the amount of your deductions, claim personal expenses as business expenses, and/or claim false deductions? If yes, you are probably being lured into an illegal tax avoidance scheme.”
The IRS prosecutes the preparers of fraudulent claims, and participating taxpayers could be subject to civil and/or criminal tax penalties. “The IRS has three key things it wants you to remember: (1) You’re responsible and liable for the content of your tax return; (2) Anyone who promises you a bigger refund without knowing your tax situation could be misleading you; and (3) You should never sign a tax return without looking it over to make sure it is honest and correct,” Jenkins said.