Tax Season is Here: Tips For Avoiding Common 2015 Tax Scams
Tax season means something different for everyone. For small business owners, tax season means organizing financial records, meetings with accountants, and assessing the costs of doing business. For an employee, tax season might mean planning a way to spend the windfall they receive from their refund check.
For scammers and con artists, however, tax season has another meaning: opportunity. These individuals and organizations take advantage of the chaos of tax season to trick people out of their money. In February, the IRS released its "Dirty Dozen" list, identifying 12 of the tax scams in 2015 that pose the biggest threat to consumers. Here are a few of the most common tax scams to be on the lookout for this year:
Identity Theft Scams
Of all the tax scams that a taxpayer can fall victim to, identity theft is perhaps the most devastating. Even more alarming, this is a scam that the IRS is having quite a time trying to put an end to. Research shows that in 2013, fraudulent tax returns filed by identity thieves cost the government upwards of $5 billion. While the IRS was able to catch and stop over $24 billion in attempted identity theft, it is still clear that tax return identity theft is a significant problem.
The concept is simple enough: the thief gains access to your personal information such as name, date of birth, and social security number, and then files what appears to be a legitimate tax return before the filing deadline of April 15. The IRS, in an effort to send out refunds to taxpayers as quickly as possible, does not take the time to check many of its early returns before sending refunds. It could be months before you realize that a thief has taken your refund money, and even when you do, you will have a mountain of paperwork and litigation to overcome when seeking justice.
Email Phishing Scams
Phishing is one of the more widespread scams that taxpayers face this season. This tax scam is when a con artist sends a fake e-mail to their victim, pretending to be from the IRS. The scammer demands that they make a payment immediately and threatens liens, fines, and possibly even jail time, depending on how bold the perpetrator is.
The victim, confused about what is happening but looking to avoid repercussions from the IRS, provides payment information to the scammer, who promptly makes off with the money. Phishing scams start out with an email because it is much easier for a scammer to send a blast of a thousand emails and "phish" for a few victims, instead of taking the time to call each potential target on the phone.
Even for criminals, this type of tax fraud is especially low. This scam works when a scammer or group of scammers gets in touch with a target and asks them for a charitable donation to help out a good cause. Well-meaning taxpayers who want to receive credit on their taxes for donating to charity dole out their hard-earned money, only to find out later that the charity was a total fraud. We covered this type of fraud in a post from late last year, when a man in Escondido allegedly set up a fake charity to collect money on behalf of the family of a murdered police officer.
Hiring a Private Investigator for Tax Scams and Other Ways to Protect Yourself
So what can a taxpayer hoping to avoid scams in 2015 do to guard against tax fraud? While it's probably impossible to be 100% protected from tax scams, there are a few tips that can decrease your chances of becoming a victim:
- File as early as possible. Scammers know that many people wait until the last minute to file their taxes: if you file early, the odds are good that no one will be able to file a fake one on your behalf
- Research any organizations, accountants, or consultants who solicit donations, retainers, or other types of payments from you for tax purposes. A few minutes of research could save you from losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
- Hire a quality private investigator in Los Angeles. A knowledgeable PI can help you look into tax preparers you have questions about, conduct a background check on potential scammers or check the assets of an organization requesting charitable donations from you
Contact a quality Los Angeles private investigator today to make sure that criminals don't get the best of you during tax season 2015.