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Bankrate's 2009 Tax Guide
Tips & tools
A tax tip a day plus an array of tax tools, terms and training will help you through filing and beyond.
 
Dirty dozen tax scams
Watch out for these 'dirty dozen' tax scams


For most taxpayers, tax-filing season is over. Tax scams, however, never seem to end.

It's true that tax-oriented scams are at their peak during the January-to-April filing season. But criminals use tax issues -- and taxpayers' concerns about their taxes -- to dupe unsuspecting filers year round.

Every year, the IRS tracks the multitude of schemes and compiles a list of the 12 most egregious tax-related scams.

Some scam artists come up with patently false schemes to wheedle personal information and money from unsuspecting taxpayers. Others take real tax breaks, or portions of legal write-offs, and illegally apply them.

Eleven of the scams are making a repeat appearance on this year's warning list, including the criminals' perennial favorite, phishing. Other cons still making the rounds include frivolous tax arguments, retirement scams, misuse of trusts and improper charity deductions. And some folks can't even trust their tax pros, with unscrupulous preparers once again making the annual list.

Each of these tax-oriented cons has serious consequences, not just for the perpetrators, but also for their victims.

If convicted of tax fraud or evasion, scam promoters face tax penalties, interest and criminal prosecution. And taxpayers who bought into a scam, even if they are unwitting victims, also could pay a steep tax price. They can end up owing not only the tax they thought they were avoiding, but also penalties and interest.

To help you avoid such unwanted tax consequences, be aware of these "dirty dozen" common, and potentially costly, tax scams.

IRS scam list for 2008
1. Phishing 7. Zero wage claims
2. Stimulus rebate scams 8. False tax abatement requests
3. Frivolous tax arguments 9. Return preparer fraud
4. Fuel tax credit scams 10. Disguised corporate ownership
5. Hiding income offshore 11. Misuse of trusts
6. Abusive retirement plans 12. Improper charitable deductions

1. Phishing
More identity thieves than ever are using tax-themed fake e-mails to try to get personal financial information. Once they do, you can say goodbye to your good financial reputation and hello to a prolonged hassle to clean up the mess. These criminals use the information to empty victims' bank accounts, run up credit card charges and apply for loans or credit in the victims' names.

Some phishing e-mails falsely claim to come from the IRS, usually asking the recipient to send the personal data in a reply e-mail or to click on a link that takes the reader to a fake IRS Web page. Don't fall for this fake bait. The IRS never uses e-mail to contact taxpayers about tax issues. Never respond to such a request and never follow any links in suspect e-mails. The only official IRS Web site is at www.irs.gov, and your safest move is to go there yourself directly if you have tax questions.

If you get such a solicitation, forward the e-mail to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. And if you ever have any doubt as to whether any IRS contact is authentic, call (800) 829-1040 to confirm it.

-- Updated: April 17, 2009
 
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