WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned senior citizens and other taxpayers to beware of an emerging scheme tempting them to file tax returns claiming fraudulent refunds.
The scheme carries a common theme of promising refunds to people who have little or no income and normally don't have a tax filing requirement. Under the scheme, promoters claim they can obtain for their victims, often senior citizens, a tax refund or nonexistent stimulus payment based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, even if the victim was not enrolled in or paying for college.
In recent weeks, the IRS has identified and stopped an upsurge of these bogus refund claims coming in from across the United States. The IRS is actively investigating the sources of the scheme, and its promoters may be subject to criminal prosecution.
"This is a disgraceful effort by scam artists to take advantage of people by giving them false hopes of a nonexistent refund," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. "We want to warn innocent taxpayers about this new scheme before more people get trapped."
Typically, con artists falsely claim that refunds are available even if the victim went to school decades ago. In many cases, scammers are targeting seniors, people with very low incomes and members of church congregations with bogus promises of free money.
The IRS has also seen a variation of this scheme that incorrectly claims the college credit is available to compensate people for paying taxes on groceries.
The IRS has already detected and stopped thousands of these fraudulent claims. Nevertheless, the scheme can still be quite costly for victims. Promoters may charge exorbitant upfront fees to file these claims and are often long gone when victims discover they've been scammed.
The IRS is reminding people to be careful because all taxpayers, including those who use paid tax preparers, are legally responsible for the accuracy of their returns, and must repay any refunds received in error.
To get the facts on tax benefits related to education, go to the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.
To avoid becoming ensnared in this scheme, the IRS says taxpayers should beware of any of the following:
This refund scheme features many of the warning signs IRS cautions taxpayers to watch for when choosing a tax preparer. For advice on choosing a competent tax professional, see Tips for Choosing a Tax Return Preparer on IRS.gov.
For additional information on tax scams, see the 2012 Dirty Dozen list.
November 2 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax.
File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until November 10 to file the return.
November 2 — Certain small employers
Deposit any undeposited tax if your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2015 but less than $2,500 for the third quarter.
November 2 — Federal unemployment tax
Deposit the tax owed through September if more than $500.
November 2 — Form 720 taxes.
File Form 720 for the third quarter of 2015.
November 2 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during September.
November 2 — Heavy highway vehicle tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in September.
November 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer - Details
November 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax.
File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.
November 11 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Veterans Day) - Details
November 12 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method.
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of October.
November 13 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of October.
November 16 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October. Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.
November 25 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method.
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of October.
November 27 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Thanksgiving Day) - Details
November 27 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of November.
November 30 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during October.
November 30 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in October.