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IRS Announces Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2011

The IRS releases its list of dirty dozen tax scams for 2011Don't try this at home: The IRS has announced its annual list of tax scams to avoid. The list, referred to by the IRS as the "dirty dozen" tax scams, was recently published for 2011.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of convictions in the UBS scandal, hiding offshore income topped the list of schemes to avoid. U.S. taxpayers must report their worldwide income and disclose certain offshore accounts. However, the IRS reports that taxpayers continue to avoid reporting and disclosure requirements by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or, in some cases, fake companies. To encourage taxpayers to come forward, the IRS recently announced a new amnesty program to identify taxpayers with offshore accounts. The new offshore voluntary disclosure initiative (sometimes referred to as OVDI) will be available through Aug. 31, 2011.Also at the top of the list is identity theft and phishing. Identity theft and phishing are variations on stealing a person's name and financial information to use for malicious purposes. These kinds of schemes tend to blow up around tax time in particular, when taxpayers may be in search of assistance to prepare their returns. Scammers may send emails to taxpayers asking for personal information or, worse, install spyware, which can be loaded onto an unsuspecting taxpayer's computer by opening an email attachment or clicking on a link. The IRS encourages anyone who receives such an email to forward it to phishing@irs.gov. If you believe your identity has been compromised and used for tax purposes, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490.

Tax preparer fraud also made the list. In these schemes, unscrupulous tax preparers may take a portion of a taxpayer's refund, charge improper fees or make claims, such as getting a taxpayer a huge refund, that is not substantiated. The IRS urges taxpayers to choose their tax preparers carefully, keeping in mind that the new regulations require all paid preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) in order to prepare any federal tax returns in 2011.

Next on the list is the filing of false or misleading returns to claim bogus refunds. Phony information returns are created in order to legitimize the refunds. One of the most popular of these is a form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), which is issued by scammers under the theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for its citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to funds in those accounts by issuing these forms to creditors. Of course, that's nonsense, and participation in such a scheme is prohibited by law.

On the list for a number of years running is the use of frivolous arguments on your tax return to avoid paying taxes. The IRS has a list of frivolous legal positions that taxpayers should avoid; this list is available online and has been updated for 2011. The IRS reminds taxpayers that while you have the right to challenge a tax liability in court, you may not break the law in order to avoid your taxes.

Rounding out the list of the dirty dozen: reporting nontaxable Social Security benefits with exaggerated withholding credit; abuse of charitable organizations and deductions; abusive retirement plans; disguised corporate ownership; filing a phony wage-or-income-related informational return; misuse of trusts; and fuel tax credit scams.

Your best bet is to avoid these tax scams altogether. Those taxpayers who promote the schemes can be subject to heavy fines and imprisonment. Those taxpayers who participate, either willfully or by accident, must repay all taxes due plus interest and, potentially, penalties.

"The Dirty Dozen represents the worst of the worst tax scams," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. "Don't fall prey to these tax scams. They may look tempting, but these fraudulent deals end up hurting people who participate in them."

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