Forget fraud this tax season: IRS-CI issues tips to protect your wallet and identity

WASHINGTON – Tax season begins January 23, and IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) is reminding American taxpayers to take extra steps to protect their identities and wallets when filing their taxes.

“Education and outreach are key to preventing tax fraud,” said IRS-CI Chief Jim Lee. “If American taxpayers know what to look for, they can avoid falling victim to the latest tax fraud scheme.”

Forget fraud this filing season:

Choose a tax preparer wisely. Look for a preparer who is available year-round. Ask your tax preparer for your IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). All paid preparers must have one. Do not use a phantom preparer. They will not sign a tax return that they prepare for you. Don’t fall victim to tax preparers’ promises of big refunds. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. All taxpayers must pay their fair share of taxes. Do not sign a blank tax return. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for what appears on tax returns filed with the IRS. Make sure you get your refund. Your refund should be deposited into your bank account, not your tax preparer’s. The IRS will not call you threatening legal action. If you get a call like that, hang up, it’s a scam! Do not reply to or click links in text messages, emails, or social media posts that claim to be from the IRS. They may contain malware that could compromise your personal information. Protect your personal and financial information. Never provide this information in response to unsolicited text messages, emails, or social media posts claiming to be from the IRS. Report the fraud to the police. Submit Form 3949-A, Reference Information, if you suspect a person or business is committing fraud.

The IRS-CI is the only federal law enforcement agency with the authority to investigate violations of the Internal Revenue Code. In tax year 2022, the IRS-CI identified $5.7 billion in tax fraud, initiated 1,388 criminal tax investigations, and obtained 699 criminal convictions for tax crimes.

Case examples include:

King Isaac Umoren was sentenced to more than 13 years for filing false tax returns, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, money laundering, and impersonating an FBI agent. He was also ordered to pay nearly $9.7 million in restitution. Umoren owned and operated Universal Tax Services, a Las Vegas-based tax preparation business, where he prepared false tax returns using the IRS preparer identification numbers of his employees to make it appear as if they had prepared the false returns, Noel. He also secretly extracted fees from clients’ tax refunds without their knowledge and went to a client’s home posing as an FBI agent to demand payment. He also sold his company under false pretenses by significantly inflating the value of his company.

Mehef Bey, Iran Backstrom, and Eurich Griffin III conspired to promote a nationwide tax fraud scheme involving more than 200 participants in at least 19 states, resulting in the filing of more than $64 million in false tax refund claims. His plan was to recruit clients and prepare false tax returns on the clients’ behalf by convincing them that their mortgages and other debts entitled them to tax refunds. Between 2014 and 2016, seminars were held throughout the county to publicize the plan. Mehef Bey and Iran Backstrom were sentenced to 11 and 8 years, respectively, in prison. Additionally, Eurich Griffin III was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison. Bey and Backstrom must pay approximately $26.35 million in restitution, and Griffin must pay more than $1.6 million in restitution.

IRS-CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting investigations of financial crimes, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, public corruption, health care fraud, identity theft, and more. IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over Internal Revenue Code violations, with a federal conviction rate of more than 90 percent. The agency has 20 field offices located in the US and 12 foreign attaché positions.