Tax scams prompt warnings

University police have no reports of tax-related scams on campus.

by Matthew Gruchow

As University students prepare for tax season, government officials are urging them to be savvy about scams designed to fleece them of their returns.

While college students have not been specifically targeted for tax scams, they can still fall victim to scams that affect everyone, according to Internal Revenue Service officials.

Eric Erickson, an IRS spokesman, said no one is exempt from potential scams.

“What we see is that people across the board are taken advantage of,” he said.

Although University police have no reports of tax-related scams on campus, this does not mean students should not be cautious, said Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department.

“Just because it looks and sounds like the IRS doesn’t mean that it is,” he said. “Just like other phony scams that have been out there trying to get your information, this could be another one.”

Janet Oaks, an IRS special agent, said anyone with limited knowledge of tax laws could be a victim of a scam.

“I don’t know that locally we’ve seen anything in particular related to a scam in colleges, but it affects any age group,” Oaks said. “Anyone that is a taxpayer could be a potential victim of a tax fraud scheme.”

Gary Carter, Carlson School of Management associate director of graduate tax studies, said college students do not make particularly good targets of scams because of their income level.

“I don’t know why they would be targeted,” Carter said. “Generally, people with higher incomes are more targets of tax scams.”

Carter, who runs a program to help international students prepare their U.S. taxes, said he cautioned the students to file the correct paperwork.

International students must file a special nonresident tax form, he said.

Foreign students could file resident paperwork, getting them a larger refund, but they could be deported if caught, Carter said.

“They are not allowed the standard deduction on a nonresident return,” he said. “There’s no effective way for the IRS to trace – to know that they are a nonresident if they have a Social Security number.”

Some Chinese students have received letters that claim to be correspondence from the Chinese Embassy telling them not to pay U.S. taxes, Carter said.

Nationally, Oaks said, the Internet is becoming a point of increased focus for its role in tax and other financial schemes.

“I would say that Internet fraud is on the forefront of issues that we’re looking at just because it can be such a broad, sweeping affect,” she said.

“And you can communicate that much faster with people, and you can get a false or fraudulent message out before either law enforcement or the IRS in general can get on to it.”

The number of tax fraud investigations dipped slightly in 2004, according to IRS documents.

Last year, the IRS initiated 206 investigations, a decrease from 229 cases in 2003, according to the IRS Web site.

Of those investigations started in 2004, 121 resulted in indictments.

People can avoid tax scams by using reputable tax preparers and not giving out personal information or tax information over the phone or Internet, Erickson said.

“Don’t be giving out your information, or your Social Security information, or tax information, because we would never ask for that,” he said.