Tax Blog

Tax Fraud: An Insider’s Take

By Kelly Hanley, Esq.

Tax fraud is a looming specter that annually compromises the integrity of the tax system and jeopardizes both government revenue and individual taxpayers. As a seasoned tax attorney with 20 years of experience, I am acutely aware of the variety of schemes fraudsters concoct to exploit the system. This article aims to elucidate some of the notable tax fraud scenarios and offers strategies for averting such treacherous circumstances.

Definition: What is Tax Fraud (Tax Evasion)?

Tax fraud, often referred to as tax evasion, involves the deliberate act of misleading or deceiving the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to avoid tax obligations. It constitutes a variety of illegal behaviors, including but not limited to, knowingly failing to pay the full tax amount owed, purposefully neglecting to file a federal income tax return when required, or intentionally omitting to report all forms of income. Individuals or corporations that engage in such activities are subject to severe penalties, emphasizing the importance of accurate and honest tax reporting.

Tax Return Fraud Examples

Fabrication and inflation of deductions, expenses, or credits is one of the most prevalent tax fraud and tax evasion tactics. Unscrupulous tax preparers and individuals, blinded by the allure of larger refunds, might be enticed to dabble in such practices. Recently, instances have been reported of taxpayers inflating their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), reporting fictitious businesses, or exaggerating deductions.

Inflating EITC, for instance, is a common transgression. EITC is a refundable tax credit for low to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children. The intention is noble – to provide financial relief to those in need. However, it is this very characteristic that makes it an enticing target for tax fraud. Fraudsters manipulate income levels to qualify for the maximum credit available.

Fraudulent Tax Returns

Another fabrication for tax evasion is creating fictitious businesses to claim unwarranted deductions. Bogus businesses with inflated expenses and deductions are frequently used to reduce taxable income. Phony business losses are particularly appealing as they can offset other income, resulting in a lower overall tax liability.

An example of tax fraud could be the deliberate underreporting of income with the intention of paying less tax than is legitimately owed. This form of fraud is often perpetrated with the intent to deceive tax authorities, reducing the individual’s income tax liability. However, such a deceitful act is considered a serious offense under tax law and can lead to hefty penalties, including fines and potential imprisonment.

Investigations, Enforcement, Trials, Sentence, Penalties, and Maybe Jail Time

The ramifications of participating in tax evasion are profound. Offenders face hefty penalties, imprisonment, and a tarnished reputation that can lead to lifelong implications. The IRS possesses a robust infrastructure to identify and combat tax evasion, and the consequences of detection far outweigh any short-lived financial benefits.

As a tax attorney, I strongly advocate for preventative strategies:

  1. Choose Your Tax Preparer Wisely: It’s crucial to engage a reputable tax preparer, one who has the necessary credentials, expertise, and integrity. Check for their PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number), credentials, and professional history.
  2. Review Your Return Thoroughly: Understand what is being reported on your tax return. If something seems dubious or unclear, ask your preparer to explain. Ensure that income and deductions align with your financial records.
  3. Maintain Accurate Records: Keeping meticulous records of income and expenses can help refute any false claims. Failure to do so is an example of something that can lead to an IRS investigation.
  4. Report Suspected Fraud: If you suspect that you’re a victim of tax evasion or if you identify fraudulent activity, report it to the IRS. This might protect you and help to shield others from similar fraud.

Are There Victims with Tax Fraud?

Tax evasion is not a victimless crime. It undercuts the system’s fairness, undermines public trust, and places an unnecessary burden on compliant taxpayers. Understanding the various fraud methods and taking the necessary precautions can help ensure that you stay on the right side of the tax law, avoiding any unwarranted entanglements with the IRS. As the age-old adage goes: “Honesty is the best policy,” especially when it comes to your taxes.

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What happens when you report someone for tax fraud?

When reporting suspected tax fraud to the IRS, several consequential steps follow. Initially, the IRS meticulously scrutinizes the information submitted by the whistleblower, using it as a foundation for their investigation. It’s crucial to understand that the IRS maintains a whistleblower program to encourage individuals to come forward with any knowledge of tax fraud. This program offers rewards for substantiated claims leading to the recovery of tax revenue. The IRS treats all reports of tax evasion with the utmost seriousness, rigorously investigating these allegations to uphold the integrity of our tax system. The information submitted aids in identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting tax fraud offenders, contributing to a fair and compliant tax ecosystem.

How do you tell if the IRS is investigating you?

Recognizing signs of an IRS investigation can often be crucial in understanding your tax status. Common indicators may include a sudden alteration in the behavior of IRS agents, the inexplicable absence of an IRS auditor, or the subpoena of your banking records. Notably, if your accountant is contacted by the Criminal Investigation Division (CI) or subpoenaed, it may point to an ongoing investigation. Additionally, if prior tax returns are selected for an audit, this could potentially signal an investigation. These signs do not necessarily guarantee an investigation, but they do suggest increased IRS scrutiny. Always consult a tax professional or attorney if you suspect you’re being investigated for further clarification and guidance.

How serious is tax fraud?

The seriousness of tax fraud cannot be overstated. Engaging in tax fraud can lead to severe repercussions, including criminal charges. In the gravest scenarios, penalties can amount to fines up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations, and incarceration for up to five years, or potentially even longer in some instances. Tax fraud doesn’t merely impact one’s financial status but can also tarnish an individual’s reputation and future opportunities. If you’re facing allegations of tax fraud, it is imperative to enlist the expertise of an experienced tax attorney to navigate the complexities of the criminal tax law landscape and ensure your rights are protected.

What is the most common form of tax fraud?

Tax evasion stands as the most widespread form of tax fraud, as outlined in 26 U.S.C. § 7201. Tax evasion encapsulates a range of illicit actions, including the failure to report taxes, misrepresentation of tax liabilities, or deliberate non-payment of due taxes. It’s important to understand that tax evasion isn’t merely an oversight; it’s a calculated action intended to manipulate the tax system, and it carries severe penalties under federal law. Always ensure accuracy in reporting taxes and consult with a tax professional if you’re unsure about any aspects of your tax obligations.

How to report someone to the IRS?

If you suspect tax law violations and wish to report someone to the IRS, the process involves filling out and submitting Form 3949-A, “Information Referral.” This can be accomplished either online or through traditional mail. It’s important to note that the IRS does not accept reports of suspected tax fraud over the phone. The Form 3949-A allows you to provide detailed information about the person or business you are reporting, the alleged tax law violation, and any additional comments. This process underscores your role in maintaining the integrity of the tax system by ensuring everyone pays their fair share.

Is tax fraud a felony?

Yes, tax fraud is classified as a felony under federal law. Intentionally falsifying entries, concealing, or destroying records, or failure to maintain necessary records, are all examples that constitute serious tax crimes. Depending on the severity and the nature of the offense, punishments can include up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. These significant penalties underscore the gravity of tax fraud and the stringent measures in place to deter such illegal activities, thereby upholding the integrity of the nation’s tax system.