Identity theft, phishing top IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” tax scams


The IRS issued its “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams Tuesday, highlighting fraudulent schemes commonly committed by and upon taxpayers. The annual warning, released to coincide with tax filing season, emphasizes the most egregious schemes involving filing false returns or return items, but it also advises yearlong vigilance against practices that prey upon the unwary and uninformed.

The 2013 list is little changed from a year earlier and for a second year is headed by:

1. Identity theft: The IRS spotlighted its measures, including its new Identity Protection web portal, to prevent and combat the growing problem of tax fraud involving stolen identities, which it called one of its top priorities. During 2012, the IRS prevented issuance of $20 billion in fraudulent refunds including those related to identity theft, up from $14 billion in 2011, it said. The IRS also noted that its identity theft enforcement sweep in January led to nearly 300 indictments, complaints, and arrests, on top of thousands of enforcement actions against identity theft tax fraud in 2012. (See “Dozens indicted on stolen identity tax refund fraud charges.”)

2. Phishing: The IRS again this year warned against fake electronic communications designed to obtain recipients’ information, reminding that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media to request personal or financial information.

3. Return preparer fraud: In addition to suggesting taxpayers make sure paid preparers sign returns and enter their preparer tax identification number (PTIN), the IRS this year included information about using Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer, to report abusive tax preparers.

4. Hiding income offshore: This warning also updated the number of participants in the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to 38,000 and its collections to $3.4 billion from the 2009 program alone (March 23, 2009, through Oct. 15, 2009) and $1 billion so far in “up-front” payments from the 2011 program (Oct. 16, 2009, through Sept. 9, 2011). In 2012, the program was extended indefinitely. (See “IRS announces third offshore voluntary disclosure program.”

5. “Free money” from the IRS and tax scams involving Social Security: With fliers and advertisements “appearing in community churches around the country,” promoters of schemes promising refunds for returns with little or no documentation have enticed “unsuspecting and well-intentioned” victims, some of whom have spread the word to friends and relatives, the IRS said. One scheme falsely advises taxpayers to claim the American opportunity tax credit even if they have no current qualifying educational expenses.

6. Impersonation of charitable organizations: Some fraudsters have doubly victimized people hit by a natural disaster by claiming to be working on behalf of the IRS to help them claim a tax casualty loss but instead steal their financial and personal information. This replaced “abuse of charitable organizations and deductions” from the 2012 list.

7. False/inflated income and expenses: Exaggerating wage or self-employment income is a common ploy by some unscrupulous preparers to inflate refundable credits, including the earned income tax credit, by more than any additional tax.

8. False Form 1099 refund claims: One scheme involves issuing a bogus information return, often Form 1099-OID, Original Issue Discount, to the IRS. A refund is then claimed on a corresponding tax return. The IRS says this is based on the theory that “the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.”

9. Frivolous arguments: The IRS maintains a webpage describing some of the more common and legally fanciful of these theories.

10. Falsely claiming zero wages: A Form 4852, Substitute Form W-2, or “corrected” Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, is fraudulently filed to reduce or eliminate income on a legitimate information return. Sometimes it is accompanied by a frivolous argument regarding the income.

11. Disguised corporate ownership: The IRS said it works with state authorities to identify entities by which taxpayers underreport income, claim bogus deductions, and engage in other misconduct.

12. Misuse of trusts: The IRS said it has seen an increase in improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses.

Paul Bonner ( ) is a JofA senior editor.

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