Tax Schemes & Scams

Don’t fall victim to tax scams. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Watch out for schemes that promise to reduce or eliminate taxes.  Involvement with tax schemes can lead to imprisonment and fines. The IRS pursues and shuts down promoters of these and numerous other scams. Anyone pulled into these schemes can also face repayment of taxes plus interest and penalties.

The IRS urges people to avoid these common schemes:

  • Misclassifying worker status.  Sometimes employers incorrectly treat employees as independent contractors to avoid paying employment taxes. Generally if the payer has the right to control what work will be done and how it will be done, the worker is an employee. Employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors (and are not eligible for relief under Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978) will be liable for the employment taxes on wages paid to the misclassified worker and subject to penalties.
  • Paying Employees in Cash. Paying employees in whole or partially in cash is a common method of evading income and employment taxes. There is nothing wrong with compensating an employee in cash, but employment taxes are owed regardless of how the employees are paid. And the IRS will build its case using all available information even if there are no payroll records or checks.
  • Filing False Payroll Tax Returns or Failing to File Payroll Tax Returns. Preparing false payroll tax returns intentionally understating the amount of wages on which taxes are owed or failing to file employment tax returns are methods commonly used to evade employment taxes.
  • S Corporation Officers Compensation Treated as Corporate Distributions.  In an effort to avoid employment taxes, some S Corporations are improperly treating officer compensation as a corporate distribution instead of wages or salary.  By law, officers are employees of the corporation for employment tax purposes and compensation they receive for their services is subject to employment taxes.
  • Trust Misuse. For years unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. They promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. However, some trusts do not deliver the promised tax benefits, and the IRS is actively examining these arrangements.
  • Frivolous Arguments. Promoters have been known to make the following outlandish claims: the Sixteenth Amendment concerning congressional power to lay and collect income taxes was never ratified; wages are not income; filing a return and paying taxes are merely voluntary; and being required to file Form 1040 violates the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
    • Don’t believe these or other similar claims. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.
  • Return Preparer Fraud. Dishonest return preparers can cause many headaches for taxpayers who fall victim to their schemes. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds and charging inflated fees for return preparation services. They attract new clients by promising large refunds. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. As the old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And remember, no matter who prepares the return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for its accuracy.
  • Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions. The IRS has observed increased use of tax-exempt organizations to improperly shield income or assets from taxation. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer moves assets or income to a tax-exempt supporting organization or donor-advised fund but maintains control over the assets or income, thereby obtaining a tax deduction without transferring a commensurate benefit to charity.
  • Offshore Transactions. Despite a crackdown by the IRS and state tax agencies, individuals continue to try to avoid U.S. taxes by illegally hiding income in offshore bank and brokerage accounts or using offshore credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance to do so. The IRS and the tax agencies of U.S. states and possessions continue to aggressively pursue taxpayers and promoters involved in such abusive transactions.
  • Pyramiding. “Pyramiding” of employment taxes is a fraudulent practice where a business withholds taxes from its employees but intentionally fails to remit them to the IRS. An often cause is a lack of profit or capital for operating costs, so the business owner uses the trust funds to pay other liabilities. The quarterly employment tax liabilities accumulate (or “pyramid”) until the employer has little hope of catching up. Businesses involved in pyramiding frequently shut down or file for bankruptcy and then start a new business under a different name starting the cycle over.