Date: January 23, 2023 Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org WASHINGTON — Tax season kicks off January 23, and IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) reminds U.S. 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 U.S. taxpayers know what to lookout for, they can avoid falling victim to the latest tax fraud scheme." Forgo fraud this filing season: Choose a tax preparer wisely. Look for a preparer who is available year-round. Ask your tax preparer for their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). All paid preparers are required to have one. Don't use a ghost preparer. They won't sign a tax return they prepare for you. Don't fall victim to tax preparers' promises of large refunds. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. All taxpayers must pay their fair share of taxes. Don't sign a blank tax return. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for what appears on tax returns filed with the IRS. Make sure you receive 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 receive a call like this, hang up, it's a scam! Don't respond to or click links in text messages, emails or social media posts claiming to be 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 the IRS. Report fraud to law enforcement. Submit Form 3949-A, Information ReferralPDF, if you suspect an individual or a business is committing fraud. IRS-CI is the only federal law enforcement agency with the authority to investigate violations of the Internal Revenue Code. In fiscal year 2022, IRS-CI identified $5.7 billion in tax fraud, initiated 1,388 criminal tax investigations and obtained 699 criminal sentences for tax crimes. Case examples include: King Isaac Umoren was sentenced 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 tax preparation business based in Las Vegas, where he prepared false tax returns using the IRS Preparer Identification Numbers of his employees to make it appear as though they had prepared the false returns, not him. He also secretly took fees out of clients' tax refunds without their knowledge and arrived at a client's house posing as an FBI agent to demand payment. He also sold his company under false pretenses by significantly inflating his company's value. Mehef Bey, Iran Backstrom and Eurich Griffin III conspired to promote a nationwide tax fraud scheme to more than 200 participants in at least 19 states causing more than $64 million in false tax refund claims to be filed. Their scheme involved recruiting clients and preparing false tax returns on the clients' behalf by convincing the clients that their mortgages and other debts entitled them to tax refunds. Between 2014 and 2016, seminars across the county were held to publicize the scheme. Mehef Bey and Iran Backstrom were sentenced to 11 years 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 financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft and more. IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, boasting a more than 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.