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Published: Sunday, 3/11/2012


Easy money

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service issues warnings about tax scams that may look obvious to most people, but fool too many vulnerable Americans into parting with their hard-earned cash.

Yet another scheme aimed at elderly and low income-citizens is making the rounds. This one is pegged to the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $2,500 reimbursement for college expenses.

The con artists persuade their victims to pay exorbitant fees up front to file for tax refunds that the applicants are not qualified to receive. The bamboozled filers are told they're entitled to a refund of $2,500 or more, even if they or their children weren't enrolled in college.

The taxpayer pays the fee and files for the refund. He or she then becomes responsible for repaying any fraudulent refund to the IRS, along with fines incurred in the process. The criminals are typically long gone before the taxpayer can look for someone to blame.

Fraud by tax-return preparers is so lucrative that the Justice Department typically launches more than 200 investigations a year; more than 100 usually result in indictments. Federal agents boast of an incarceration rate in such cases of more than 80 percent.

Tax filers must be careful in choosing a preparer. Doing a little homework can go a long way. If getting a tax refund from the federal government sounds too good to be true, it's probably a scam.

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