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IRS Reveals The "Dirty Dozen" Tax Scams For '17

The IRS has released its annual list of the "Dirty Dozen" tax scams to watch out for in 2017. Here's a recap of the IRS' summary of the top 12:

1. Phishing: A scammer may pose as a representative of an organization you know and trust, perhaps sending mass emails under another person's name or purporting to be a bank, credit card company, tax software provider, or government agency. The goal is to get you to provide personal information.

2. Phone Scams: Crooks may make aggressive phone calls when impersonating an IRS agent. The person might threaten you with police arrest, deportation, license revocation, or some other action—which legitimate agency employees wouldn't do.

3. Identity Theft: Watch out for identity theft, especially during tax-filing season, when someone might steal your Social Security number and use it to file a tax return, claiming a fraudulent refund.

4. Return Preparer Fraud: The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. But some dishonest preparers perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft, and other scams.

5. Fake Charities: Look out for groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Take a few extra minutes to ensure your hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. Visit IRS.gov to check out their status.

6. Inflated Refund Claims: Promoters may offer exorbitant refunds. Be wary of anyone who asks taxpayers to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at their records, or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund. Fraudsters rely on flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts—even word of mouth via community groups—to find victims.

7. Excessive Claims for Business Credits: The fuel tax credit—which isn't available to most taxpayers and usually is limited to off-highway business use, including farming—often is claimed improperly. Taxpayers also should avoid misuse of the research credit. Claims for that credit may be disqualified for failure to participate in or to substantiate qualified research activities or to satisfy tax law requirements.

8. Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Avoid the temptation to falsely inflate deductions or expenses on returns to pay less than what you owe or to get a bigger refund. Think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions and business expenses or improperly claiming credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC).

9. Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Avoid the temptation to inflate deductions or expenses on your return to underpay taxes and possibly receive a larger refund. Overstating deductions for charitable contributions and business expenses or claiming invalid personal credits could lead to large bills for back taxes, interest, or even criminal prosecution.

10. Abusive Tax Shelters: Abusive tax schemes have evolved from illegal domestic and foreign trust arrangements into even more sophisticated strategies. These scams often take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit or debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.

11. Frivolous Tax Arguments: The IRS also describes common frivolous tax arguments made by those who refuse to comply with federal tax laws. Frequently, taxpayers refuse to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds by invoking their First Amendment rights. Those efforts inevitably fail, and the penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000.

12. Offshore Tax Avoidance: A recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows why it's a bad bet to hide money and income offshore. Taxpayers are served best by coming in voluntarily and taking advantage of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to catch up on their tax responsibilities.

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This article was written by a professional financial journalist for The Dover Group and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

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