Tax advice: Beware of these scams for 2015

Tax season is in full swing, and the IRS wants taxpayers to beware of common scams. High the list are telephone and e-mail requests for money, consumers should also be wary of fake tax shelters and anyone asking for sensitive personal information. 

Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
An IRS Estimated Tax form at H & R Block tax preparation office in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles.

I recently read the IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams, 2015 edition, so you won’t have to. The government’s annual guide alerts taxpayers to potential scams.

“Whether it’s a phone scam or scheme to steal a taxpayer’s identity, there are simple steps [for consumers] to take to help stop these con artists,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says.

At the top of the list of things the IRS wants us to beware of are telephone and email scams. If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS and pressures you to give him or her money, hang up. If you receive an email from someone claiming to be with the IRS and asking for personal information or money, delete it.

The IRS also advises that taxpayers stay on the alert for identity theft, especially around tax time.

The agency doesn’t just warn the public about scammers in its annual missive. It reminds us to watch our own behavior and, of course, comply with all applicable tax laws.

Included on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams, which I’m summarizing here, is Offshore Tax Avoidance. You have a responsibility under U.S. law to declare your foreign accounts to the U.S. Treasury. The penalties of not doing so are significant.

In case you think you can get away with it, federal authorities have negotiated agreements with most countries to exchange data on foreigners owning accounts. In an effort to give taxpayers an opportunity to come clean, the IRS offers its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

Here are some other key takeaways:

  • The IRS warns taxpayers not to hide taxable income by filing false Form 1099s or other fake documents. Using false documents in an attempt to reduce your tax bill or inflate tax refunds is a huge red flag, the IRS says.
  • The government warns against excessive claims for certain credits such as Fuel Tax Credits. “The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming,” the IRS says. It is not available to most taxpayers.
  • The IRS wants you to stay away from anyone who promises to reduce taxes by but inflating refund claims.
  • It says you should avoid people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. The IRS also tells you to make sure that the charities you give to are real. In particular, beware of charities that have names similar to nationally known organizations.

IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations, the government says.

Be aware of all the potential scams, as well as applicable laws, this tax season.

Learn more about Chris on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.

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