(USA TODAY) Because paying taxes just isn't fun enough, fraudsters spend extra time during tax season trying to steal your hard-earned money. This year's top scams from all the five-star boiler rooms, according to the IRS:
• Identity theft. Con artists just love to get your Social Security number and other key bits of personal information so they can fill out a bogus tax return and collect your refund. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft issues, including YouTube videos and tips for taxpayers.
• Phone scams. Callers pretend to be the IRS, hoping to get information from you. After threatening victims with jail time or a driver's license revocation, they hang up. Moments later, other scammers call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV. If you know you owe taxes (or think you do), call 800-829-1040 and talk to an IRS employee. If you're pretty sure you don't owe taxes, call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
• False promises of inflated refunds. Honest preparers don't make wild claims and have a tax-preparer identification number. Beware: You're legally responsible for your return, even if you don't prepare it.
• Offshore tax-shelter scams. The IRS has collected billions of dollars from people who thought they were hiding money offshore, and they're getting better at it. It's not worth the risk.
• Fake charities. When disaster strikes, you're likely to get call from charities asking for help. Always investigate before you donate. Unfortunately, they might not only take your money, but get you in trouble with the IRS as well. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax deductible.
• Frivolous arguments. You may believe that paying taxes is an unconstitutional infringement on your liberty, but good luck finding a court in the land that will agree with you. The IRS certainly won't. You could be liable for penalties for filing an inaccurate return, a civil fraud penalty, an erroneous refund claim penalty, or a failure to file penalty. Want to argue the law? It's such a dumb argument that the Tax Court may also impose a penalty against taxpayers who make frivolous arguments in court.
Naturally, claiming you have no income when you do, claiming fictional dependents or using abusive tax shelters will get you in trouble, too. Go to www.irs.gov for the full list.
The IRS releases its Dirty Dozen annually, and many on the list, particularly identity theft scams, are perennial. Last year, the IRS included phony corporate ownership claims in its list. In that scam, third parties are improperly used to request employer identification numbers and form corporations that obscure the true ownership of the business, the IRS says.