The Internal Revenue Service offers the following seven tips to help taxpayers avoid an emerging scheme tempting senior citizens and other taxpayers to file tax returns claiming fraudulent refunds.

These schemes promise refunds to people who have little or no income and normally don't have a tax filing requirement.

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.

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.

A variation of this scheme also falsely claims the college credit is available to compensate people for paying taxes on groceries.

These schemes can 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.

Taxpayers should be careful of these scams because, regardless of who prepared their tax return, the taxpayer is legally responsible for the accuracy of their tax return and must repay any refunds received in error, plus any penalties and interest. They may even face criminal prosecution.

To avoid becoming ensnared in these schemes, the IRS says taxpayers should beware of any of the following:

  • Fictitious claims for refunds or rebates based on false statements of entitlement to tax credits.
  • Unfamiliar for-profit tax services selling refund and credit schemes to the membership of local churches.
  • Internet solicitations that direct individuals to toll-free numbers and then solicit social security numbers.
  • Homemade flyers and brochures implying credits or refunds are available without proof of eligibility.
  • Offers of free money with no documentation required.
  • Promises of refunds for "Low Income – No Documents Tax Returns."
  • Claims for the expired Economic Recovery Credit Program or for economic stimulus payments.
  • Unsolicited offers to prepare a return and split the refund.
  • Unfamiliar return preparation firms soliciting business from cities outside of the normal business or commuting area.

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 this scheme, and its promoters can be subject to criminal prosecution.

To get the facts on tax benefits related to education, go the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on this website.

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May 2016
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Upcoming Tax Dates

May 2 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. 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 May 10 to file the return.

May 2 — Federal unemployment tax.
Deposit the tax owed through March if more than $500.

May 2 — Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the first quarter of 2016.

May 2 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during March.

May 2 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in March.

May 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during April, report them to your employer - Details

May 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2016. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

May 11 — 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 April.

May 13 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 15 days of April.

May 16 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

May 16 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

May 25 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 15 days of April.

May 27 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of May.

May 31 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during April.

may 31 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in April.

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