2014-02-21 / Top Stories

Sidestep Tax Scam Pitfalls

Every day people are taken in by schemes, cons and scams of all kinds.

Tax season is no exception and has its own pitfalls and hazards to avoid.

From her office in Mineola, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and her staff investigate and prosecute financial crimes that involve Long Island consumers and taxpayers. But she has advice on how to spot the top tax scams to look out for and tips on how to avoid them.

Commenting via Twitter, Rice recently said, “By knowing what scams are out there, taxpayers can turn the table on criminals looking to take advantage of common tax season anxieties over audits and refunds. They can also help stop fraudulent tax preparers who are cheating the system. They can contact their local District Attorney or the IRS.”

For instance, prosecutors and investigators in the Nassau DA’s Economic Crimes Bureau are now reviewing data calls to Nassau residents from a Washington D.C. area number in which the caller claims to be an IRS agent and demands immediate payment or be audited.

Ultimately this case may lead to arrests and prosecution.

According to Rice, here are the top tax scams to look out for. - Telephone calls from individuals posing as IRS agents and threatening an audit. This month, Nassau County residents reported receiving telephone calls from Washington, D.C.’s area code, 202, threatening taxpayers with an audit if immediate demands for payment were not met.

Tip: This communication is a scam. IRS will inform taxpayers of an audit only by mail – not by telephone.

- Telephone calls from individuals posing as IRS agents and threatening arrest. Also this month, residents reported receiving telephone calls informing them of an arrest warrant in their name and demanding imme-

diate payment of money to avoid arrest.

Tip: The IRS would not threaten an arrest in this manner.

- Emails purportedly from the IRS threatening arrest or audit. In December 2013 and January 2014, residents received emails purporting to be from the IRS threatening arrest or audit if payments were not made.

Tip: The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers over email, text messages or social media.

- Emails purporting to be from the IRS asking for personal information. In November 2013 and December 2013, residents received emails asking for personal information in order to verify that the taxpayer was not a person who should be audited.

Tip: Be careful and protect your personal information, especially online.

- Tax preparers who won’t sign a tax return or charge unusual fees. It’s important to choose a tax preparer carefully. Avoid tax preparers who will not sign your return or who will charge fees based on a percentage of your refund.

Tip: If the tax preparer e-files, check that the tax preparer is registered with the IRS to e-file on the IRS website: www.irs.gov. Also check that preparer can be reached after tax season in case you have questions or get audited.

- Tax preparers who promise too-goodto be-true tax refunds. Reputable tax preparers will ask to see documentation such as receipts and ask questions in order to determine dependents, credits, etc. Make sure that you get a complete hardcopy of any tax return prepared by the preparer in your name and read it before it is filed. It should bear the preparer’s number and name. Never sign a blank return. Check for additional dependents, deductions, and business expenses that are unfamiliar to you.

Tip: All legitimate tax preparers are given a preparer number by the IRS and must affix their names and those numbers to the returns they prepare. If the tax preparer does not include that information on a return prepared in your name, ask questions and don’t file the return until you get satisfactory answers.

Unscrupulous tax preparers often get a larger refund by adding false dependents, business expenses, etc. If such a return has been filed in your name, you should report it to the taxing authorities and amend your return immediately.

- Tax preparers who offer an immediate tax refund for a fee. Remember that this is a loan against your refund and there is usually a fee for this service. If your refund is advanced to you by the tax preparer and will be paid directly to the tax preparer, verify the amount of the refund.

Tip: If a taxpayer e-files, they can request a refund by direct deposit. A notification from the tax authority should indicate that the return has been accepted and that a refund will be issued in several weeks. The IRS website has a schedule indicating when you should receive your refund.

- Identity thieves using identities of legitimate taxpayers to file false income tax returns. Identity thieves use personal information to file false returns and obtain refunds in those taxpayers’ names. The false returns filed often contain false W-2 or 1099 information that will generate a larger refund as well as false dependents and deductions. The false returns usually contain an address controlled by the scammer in order to receive the ill-gotten refund.

Tip: Tax scammers target vulnerable populations, including the infirm and elderly, to file false income tax returns.

Being aware of common tax frauds and being alert is always the best defense against being scammed.

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