IRS advises: 'Beware of tax fraud'

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

The first wave of the tax season is complete, but there remains as many as 700,000 Georgians who still need to file income tax returns the Oct. 17, the extended deadline, according to officials with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Late filers, particularly those strapped for time, are encouraged to beware of tax scams, said IRS Spokesman Mark Green. "Don't let yourself get involved in a tax scam, or be victimized one," he said. "Be very careful who you trust for tax advice, and who you trust with your personal information."

Green said "return preparer fraud" is a growing problem. He said the IRS and the United States Attorney's Office are reminding taxpayers to be on the lookout for fraudulent tax schemes, and tax return preparers who are not qualified.

The IRS Spokesman said taxpayers should always resist attempts to take illegal, or fraudulent, shortcuts in preparing their returns. "If a tax preparer brags about getting you a bigger refund than the preparer down the street, walk away," he said. "That may indicate you've chosen someone who is about to prepare a fraudulent tax return. While most return preparers are professionals, who provide honest, and excellent service to their clients, some make basic errors, or engage in fraud, and other illegal activities."

Green said dishonest preparers and scheme promoters frequently end up facing heavy fines and imprisonment, while taxpayers who wittingly, or unwittingly, get involved with these schemes must repay all taxes due, plus interest and penalties.

Federal officials reported the prosecution of several tax cases in the Northern District of Georgia, including the case of Vernon A. Roberts, 52, of Conyers, Gregory A. Shepherd, 55, of Stone Mountain, and Guillermina Carmona, 38, of Kissimmee, Fla., who were indicted a federal grand jury on March 24, 2010.

"Those who do not pay their fair share of taxes shortchange the system," said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. "In a time when we face such significant budget issues, it is particularly reprehensible that some are not paying their fair share. We will aggressively pursue all who commit tax fraud."

Roberts, Shepherd, and Carmona were charged with conspiracy and multiple counts of aiding, or assisting, the preparation of false tax returns, claiming a total of $586,689 in fraudulent tax refunds, between 2004 and 2007. The U.S. Attorney's Office reported that the returns contained false self-employment income numbers and other false items, including false Georgia addresses used to misrepresent the taxpayers' eligibility to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Roberts was convicted of one count of conspiracy and eight counts of aiding or assisting the preparation of false tax returns after a four-day jury trial that ended on Sept. 24, 2010. He was sentenced to six years, six months in federal prison to be followed three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $443,864 in restitution. Shepherd pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy on Sept. 13, 2010, agreed to cooperate, and was sentenced to nine months in federal prison, to be followed three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $163,161 in restitution. Carmona pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy on May 26, 2010, agreed to cooperate, and was sentenced to one year, six months in federal prison, to be followed three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $512,070 in restitution.

"I believe that public awareness is a critical element in deterring potential tax fraud, and educating the public about tax scams and publicizing that offenders are caught and punished, we hope to prevent individuals from taking that fateful step," said IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Reginael McDaniel. "It is important for taxpayers to have confidence that when they pay their taxes, everyone else will do the same."

The IRS implements several requirements for paid tax preparers, added IRS Spokesman Mark Green. Those requirements include registering with the IRS, and a preparer tax identification number (PTIN), as well as competency tests and ongoing continuing professional education. He said taxpayers should ask for the PTIN and verify it through the www.IRS.gov web site.

Green also warns taxpayers to take precautions against identity theft and phishing. Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes, should immediately contact the local authorities, and the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, at 1-800-908-4490.