IRS Warns Against Cutting Corners, Disreputable Accountants as Tax Day Looms
March 23, 2011 (The Monitor, McAllen, Texas) MCALLEN -- They're arguably the one federal agency that touches every American in one way or another. And the agency may seem less glamorous than the FBI or the CIA. But try to cut corners or cheat them, and they could come knocking on the door with as much intimidation.
It's tax season and the Internal Revenue Service is collecting in full force. Federal income taxes aren't due until April 18 (that's 26 days from Wednesday, March 23) and officials say plenty of filers have still not submitted their 1040s.
But with 230 million returns processed last year, a few cheaters are bound to try and game the system.
Take Mission accountant Israel E. Gonzalez Jr., who pleaded guilty in federal court in February to preparing 16 individual federal income tax returns between 2004 and 2006, claiming various fake deductions.
The federal indictment came after seven customers claimed between $16,384 and $109,550 worth of false business depreciation expenses.
Gonzalez reached a plea deal with prosecutors should give him a lighter prison sentence. But the agreement still requires him to pay nearly $937,000 in restitution.
In Gonzalez's case, prosecutors did not name the customers who benefitted from the shady tax returns. And it is unclear whether they will face criminal charges.
But it's up to the taxpayer to know what's on his or her tax return -- even if it was prepared by an accountant, said Robin Sabin, a regional IRS spokeswoman.
"Ultimately, it's the taxpayer's responsibility to make sure the return is filed correct," she said. "Make sure that you are very comfortable with the return you're going to sign."
That, and make sure you're comfortable with your accountant, for those not preparing their own taxes, Sabin said.
Taxpayers should watch out for any accountants who are paid on commission -- that is, the bigger the return, the more they get paid, Sabin said. Also pick accountants who are certified public accountants or enrolled with the IRS, so they will represent you if your return is picked for an audit.
"Choose a return preparer like you choose a doctor," Sabin said. "Do a little bit of homework before you trust them with something as important as a tax return and the information you're going to be providing to them."
Some may be tempted to file sketchy claims to get a bigger return. But a few hundred extra dollars on that return check -- or direct deposit, which has seen its use rise 3 percent over last year -- could cost a filer more in the end.
"You might get a nice refund today, but in a year, you might have to pay that back, plus interest," Sabin said.