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How to Avoid Tax Scams & Fraud

how to avoid tax scams and fraud

Tax scams have become one of the most popular ways criminals steal money and identities. The IRS flagged over $5.7 billion in tax fraud last year and 2023 is not looking any better with so many tax scams circulating. Luckily, there are ways to help avoid tax scams and fraud. Here are the most common tax scams in 2023 and how you can avoid them. 

What Are Tax Scams & Fraud? 

Tax scams are when criminals use stolen information, like your name, address, birthdate or Social Security Number (SSN), to file a phony tax return. The criminals then steal your refund and leave you with the burden of dealing with the IRS. Tax scams happen all year long but especially during tax season. 

Most Common Tax Scams in 2023 

According to the IRS, there are a handful of popular scams that you should be wary of in 2023.  

IRS Impersonation Scams: Criminals will ask for personal or financial information through unsolicited emails, phone calls, or text messages. Sometimes, scammers will send malicious links via email that entices you to click on it. This action prompts a download of identity-stealing malware onto your computer. 

Ghost Tax Preparer Scams: Scammers pose as tax preparers and file your tax returns but do not sign the return or include a preparer tax ID number (PTIN). During the process, they can steal your identity and/or your tax refund. 

Social Media Tax Scams: Criminals use your social media information to get other personal information. They might pose as a friend or relative to ask for money or donations. Alternatively, they can send messages that contain malware to steal your identity. 

Fraudulent Unemployment Claim Scams: Scammers attempt to steal personal information to claim unemployment benefits on your behalf. You may not realize you were scammed until you receive a Form 1099-G at the end of the year. 

Phony Charity Request Scams: Thieves set up phony charities to steal personal information or donations. These fake charities will not have an actual employer identification number (EIN), which is required to verify the existence of a charity. 

Economic Impact Payment Scams: COVID-19 stimulus checks have stopped being sent out, but scammers are still sending malicious text messages, phone calls, and emails to request bank account information. They lead you to believe you will receive a new stimulus check, when really they are stealing your personal and financial information. 

How to Avoid Tax Scams & Fraud 

Knowing how the IRS operates can be the best way to protect yourself against tax scams and fraud. For example, the IRS will reach out to you initially through regular mail through the U.S. Postal Service. If your IRS notice looks suspicious, you can go on the IRS website to search for the letter or notice and confirm its authenticity. The IRS does make phone calls to taxpayers but never threatens legal action or requests payment information over the phone. If you receive a suspicious email or text claiming to be from the IRS, do not reply, click on any links, or open any attachments. If in doubt, you can call the IRS yourself to communicate your concerns. 

Report All Tax Scams

Most importantly, you should report all tax scams. Just because you might recognize the scam immediately, it does not mean everyone else will. Reporting the scams can potentially help thousands of other taxpayers. Here’s a breakdown of what to do if you think you are being scammed. 

  • If you receive a suspicious email about your taxes, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. 
  • If you receive a phony call, email a summary of the occurrence to phishing@irs.gov. 
  • If you clicked on a link within a suspicious email, or entered personal information, report the incident on the IRS Identity Theft Central webpage. 
  • If you receive a suspicious text message about your taxes, you can forward it to 202-552-1226. 
  • If you were scammed by your tax preparer, or believe your tax preparer is not following IRS rules, you can report them with Form 3949-A, Information Referral. 
  • If you receive a bogus form from a financial institution, you should report the incident to the financial institution directly.  

It’s better to be safe than sorry in these scenarios, so always report when in doubt. Not doing so can lead to several issues with the IRS that can take months to correct. Dealing with the IRS under any circumstances can be tough. If you need tax help, Optima and our team of experts are here.

If You Need Tax Help, Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation 

When Does the IRS Pursue Criminal Charges?

When Does the IRS Pursue Criminal Charges?

Statistically, your chances of being charged with criminal tax fraud or tax evasion by the IRS are minimal. The IRS initiates criminal investigations against fewer than 2% of all American taxpayers. Of that number, only about 20% face criminal tax charges or fines.

Related Article: The IRS Criminal Investigation Process

Unofficially, the minimum amount of unpaid taxes required to trigger an IRS criminal investigation is $70,000. And since the majority of Americans don’t even earn that much money, it’s easy to see why ordinary taxpayers need never worry about facing tax evasion or tax fraud charges.

While honest mistakes or even negligence generally won’t trigger a tax investigation, perpetrating fraud very well might. IRS agents are trained to recognize signs of criminal tax fraud and evasion. Exhibiting behaviors the IRS calls “affirmative acts” could eventually result in that fateful knock on the door from the IRS.

Negligence versus Tax Fraud

Back in the day, it seemed like the IRS was lying in wait, prepared to strike unsuspecting taxpayers at the slightest sign of tax error. These days the IRS is more tolerant of mistakes made by honest taxpayers.

When the circumstances are not clear cut, the IRS frequently errs on the side of giving the taxpayer the benefit of the doubt. Miscalculating the amount of your Earned Income Tax Credit is a mistake that could cost you a significant sum of money, but it isn’t usually considered to be tax fraud. Artificially concealing $800,000 of income by keeping two sets of books? Tax fraud. (Nolo)

Evidence of Tax Fraud

Four so-called elements of tax fraud are recognized by the IRS: deception, misrepresenting material facts, submitting false or deliberately altered documents and failing to submit critical documents, such as tax returns. Several elements of fraud must occur together to trigger IRS tax fraud charges. But a single element that occurs in an especially blatant fashion may generate IRS tax fraud charges.

For instance, failure to submit a tax return for a single year is not usually considered to be an element of tax fraud. On the other hand, unless your income is extremely low, failing to file any tax returns ever could very well cause the IRS to initiate a criminal investigation against you.

Badges of Tax Fraud

The list below, taken from the IRS.gov website, represents several “badges of fraud” the IRS looks for when determining whether to file criminal charges.

Badges of tax fraud fall into four general categories: improper reporting of income, unjustified deductions or tax credits, inadequate record keeping and outright illegal behavior. As with elements of fraud, IRS agents are inclined to give taxpayers the benefit of the doubt. They’ll impose penalties for taxpayers in arrears rather than bringing criminal charges against them.

  • Understatement or omission of substantial sums of money
  • Fictitious deductions
  • Maintaining “shadow” sets of accounting records
  • Deliberate destruction of records
  • Evidence of consistent underreporting of income
  • Obviously nonsensical explanations for behavior
  • Refusing to cooperate with an auditor or examiner·
  • Deliberately concealing assets, as in overseas tax shelters
  • Illegal activities
  • Dealing exclusively in cash
  • Maintaining obviously inadequate records
  • Indicators of Fraud

The IRS categorizes indicators of tax fraud into six broad categories: income, expenses and deductions, books and records, income allocation, methods of concealment and taxpayer conduct.

Just as with elements of tax fraud and badges of tax fraud, the difference between negligence and criminal conduct is often a matter of extent.

Indicators of fraud usually include an element of deliberate conduct as well. An extensive list of actions that constitute indicators of fraud are available on the IRS website, but the examples below should provide a general idea of how the IRS views indicators of fraud.

Example #1:

Forgetting to include income from a W-2 form is not considered an indicator of income fraud. Insisting on being paid cash wages for a job and refusing to list any income from that job on your federal income tax return would be considered to be an indicator of income fraud.

Example #2:

Miscalculating the percentage of business versus personal use for your computer is not considered an indicator of fraud for expenses and deductions. Attempting to deduct the entire cost of your vacation to the Bahamas because you answered a single work-related email from your hotel room WOULD be.

Don’t Be Evasive

In general, if you suspect that a particular type of conduct is disallowed by the IRS, you shouldn’t do it. If you go ahead and do it anyway, you run the risk of being cited for tax evasion or tax fraud. And if you do receive that dreaded knock on the door from the IRS, you should not be surprised.

Additional Tax Tips:What to do during an IRS Audit
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