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IRS: Beware of phony refund schemes targeting seniors

Published April 1, 2013 12:33 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Internal Revenue Service is warning Utah senior citizens and other taxpayers they need to be on the lookout for con artists who may try to tempt them to file tax returns claiming fraudulent refunds.

It said the schemes follow a common theme of promising refunds to people who have little or no income and normally don't have a tax filing requirement.

Promoters will often claim they can obtain for their victims 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.

"This is a disgraceful effort by scam artists to take advantage of people by giving them false hopes of a nonexistent refund," IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement.

Shulman said con artists often will falsely claim that refunds are available, even if the victim went to school decades ago. In many cases, those scammers are targeting seniors, people with very low incomes and members of church congregations with their bogus promises of free money.

The IRS said such schemes can be costly for victims. Promoters may charge exorbitant upfront fees to file the bogus claims and often are long gone when victims discover they've been scammed. And it emphasized that all taxpayers are legally responsible for the accuracy of their returns, and must repay any refunds received in error.

To avoid becoming ensnared in such a scheme, the IRS said taxpayers should be on the lookout for:

• Fictitious claims for refunds or rebates based on false statement 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 them 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, and

• Unfamiliar return preparation firms soliciting business from cities outside of the normal business or commuting area.

Utah taxpayers can go to http://www.irs.gov for additional information on tax scams.