Crime Watch

Crime Watch: Tips to avoid tax-time fraud


Special to The Miami Herald

This is the week everyone gets crazy because of the April 15 deadline for filing federal income tax returns.

Many are running around looking for ways not only to meet the deadline but also to save money. Also running around are criminals looking to scam you by offering to help and making promises of great returns. Therefore, I went to the Internal Revenue Service website and found the following information.

To avoid becoming victims, the IRS says taxpayers should beware of:

• Fictitious claims for refunds or rebates based on false statements of entitlement to tax credits.

• Unfamiliar for-profit tax services selling refund and credit schemes to church congregations.

• Internet solicitations that direct individuals to toll-free numbers and then solicit Social Security numbers.

• Homemade fliers and brochures that imply 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.

• Unfamiliar, out-of-area tax return-preparation firms.

In speaking to several certified public accountants, I learned that people don’t have to go crazy before April 15 because they can request a deadline extension (although they still have to pay what they estimate their taxes to be). You can go to the IRS website,, for more information about this. So take a deep breath and use common sense.

Because identity theft typically increases during tax-filing season, the IRS continues to alert consumers to be on the lookout for suspicious emails that include the IRS name or logo. If you receive an email claiming to come from the agency, someone might be trying to gain your personal and financial information, making you a target for identity theft.

The IRS says it does not engage with individuals via email.

In addition to email scams, each year also brings an increase in the number of identity theft reports traced to stolen mail, online tax-filing security holes and easy access to financial records that people sometimes leave on their desktops. Although identity theft cannot be eliminated, you can reduce your chance of becoming a victim by taking a few precautionary steps, so visit the IRS website for more information:

If you receive a notice in the mail from the IRS alerting you of possible identity theft, respond immediately. If you believe you may be an identity theft victim due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.

Regarding last week’s column on Switchboard of Miami, the group asked me to offer you the phone number of its original helpline — 305-358-4357.

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to, or call her at 305-470-1670.

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