Advice | Tax time is prime time for scammers and scheming tax preparers


Do you know who loves tax season?

This is prime time for con artists and shady tax preparers. They know people are eager to land larger refunds or reduce their tax debt.

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service highlights its Dirty Dozen tax scams. These schemes are scary and increasingly sophisticated, so even the most skeptical person may not be able to avoid being victimized.

But soon the IRS will have in place a system that could be extraordinarily helpful in protecting people from scammers impersonating the agency, according to IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

This is how it would work. If you get an email, call or text message, all you have to do is go to your IRS online account. Once you sign on, a green banner will indicate the agency is not trying to reach you. It will be a clear and easy way to verify whether someone is trying scam you.

However, a red banner means the IRS is trying to reach you. If that’s the case, you will contact the agency directly.

“The goal is for this to be ready for next filing season,” Werfel said.

Folks, you have to be careful about any contact you receive about your tax situation. Here are the scams that made the 2024 Dirty Dozen list.

The IRS continues to receive complaints about two main scams.

  • Phishing: You get an email claiming to be from the IRS. The con might involve the promise of a refund or a threat that you owe Uncle Sam.
  • Smishing: This involves a text message with language that would scare most folks. It might say “Your account has now been put on hold” or “Unusual Activity Report,” the IRS says.

Employee Retention Credit

The IRS continues to warn businesses about improperly claiming the Employee Retention Credit.

This is a refundable tax credit available to businesses that continued paying employees after shutting down because of the pandemic, or that had a significant decline in gross receipts from March 13, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021.

Last month, three New Jersey individuals were charged with falsely seeking more than $2.9 billion in tax benefits, including the employee retention credit, from the IRS by filing 131 false returns.

Fraud was so bad in this area that the IRS announced a processing moratorium on new claims for the credit. The agency said it has stopped $1 billion in ERC claims since last fall. An additional $3 billion in claims is being reviewed by IRS Criminal Investigation, the agency said.

In this scam, a third party offers to help you set up an online IRS account. The goal is to either steal your information to commit identity theft, or to submit a tax return in your name and get a fraudulent refund.

The only place you should go to create an IRS online account is

Don’t wait for the scam alert system the IRS is working to set up by next year. Play defense when it comes to your financial data. If you don’t already have an IRS online account, establish one now.

‘Offer in compromise’ mills

No doubt you’ve probably heard this pitch while listening to the radio: “If you owe $10,000 or more to the IRS, call for a free tax consultation.”

Or: “We can stop IRS liens, levies and wage garnishment.”

But what these ads don’t make clear is that they are promoting a strategy that involves an “offer in compromise,” or OIC. It is an option for those unable to pay the full tax liability or if doing so creates a financial hardship.

The claims that they can settle your debt for far less than you owe are exaggerated with excessive fees, money that could be used to pay your taxes.

It can be extremely hard to get an OIC approved, a fact the promoters often don’t disclose. Of the 36,022 offers submitted in fiscal 2022, the IRS accepted 13,165.

Check whether you are eligible for this program by using the IRS’s Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool on its website.

‘Ghost’ tax preparers

By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assist in preparing your tax return must have a valid 2024 preparer tax identification number, or PTIN, according to the IRS.

Preparers who won’t sign their work may be trying to “ghost” you. This could mean that the person doesn’t want the IRS to know they worked on your return or that they intend to alter the numbers before filing it electronically.

Here’s the rest of the Dirty Dozen list:

  • False fuel tax credit claims. This credit is only available for off-highway business and farming use.
  • Fake charities that want your money or personal information.
  • Bad tax advice on social media platforms.
  • “Spearphishing,” which targets tax professionals. The agency isn’t going to threaten to send the police to your house. In this scheme, scammers target tax preparers and the trove of information they have on clients.
  • Tax schemes targeting high earners. This might include a scheme to get a deduction for artwork or the fraudulent use of a charitable trust.
  • Bogus tax strategies that inflated certain deductions.
  • Promoters who claim they can show you how to hide assets in offshore accounts or by holding digital assets.

If you want more personal finance advice that’s timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones.

Here are some tips to help protect you from falling victim to a tax scam:

  • The agency isn’t going to threaten to send the police to your house.
  • Look for a letter. If the IRS has an issue with you, you will get a notice.
  • The IRS won’t ask you to pay a tax bill with a gift card or cryptocurrency.
  • The IRS will not initiate contact with you by phone or email to ask for your personal or financial information. If you get an email or text message, don’t reply. Don’t open any attachments. Don’t click any links.

Basically trust nothing and no one. Verify everything and anything with the IRS.


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