Tax scams are a problem all year long, but tend to be more common right after the filing season is over. Many frustrated taxpayers are trying to resolve issues, especially if they received a balance due notice in the mail. Bad actors know that they can take advantage of a stressful situation and pull the wool over your eyes. Don’t let them! Watch out for these common tactics that sleazy firms use to make a quick buck:
OIC Mills: Offer in Compromise (OIC) “mills” make outlandish claims regarding how they can settle a person’s tax debt for pennies on the dollar. The reality usually is that taxpayers pay the OIC mill a fee to get the same deal they could have gotten on their own by working directly with the IRS.
An “offer,” or OIC, is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that resolves the taxpayer’s tax debt. The IRS has the authority to settle, or “compromise,” federal tax liabilities by accepting less than full payment under certain circumstances. However, some promoters are inappropriately advising indebted taxpayers to file an OIC application with the IRS, even though the promoters know the person won’t qualify. This costs honest taxpayers money and time.
Ghost preparers: Although most tax preparers are ethical and trustworthy, taxpayers should be wary of preparers who won’t sign the tax returns they prepare, often referred to as ghost preparers. For e-filed returns, the “ghost” will prepare the return, but refuse to digitally sign as the paid preparer.
By law, anyone who is paid to prepare, or assists in preparing federal tax returns, must have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on the return.
Inflated refunds: Not signing a return is a red flag that the paid preparer may be looking to make a quick profit by promising a big refund or charging fees based on the size of the refund.
Unscrupulous tax return preparers may also:
- Require payment in cash only and will not provide a receipt.
- Invent income to qualify their clients for tax credits.
- Claim fake deductions to boost the size of the refund.
- Direct refunds into their bank account, not the taxpayer’s account.
Remember: you, the taxpayer are legally responsible for what’s on your tax return, even if it is prepared by someone else! Choose your preparer wisely, and be very skeptical of anyone who makes claims that sound too good to be true.