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Sarah Kull, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Internal Revenue Service's Detroit Field Office, warns about phone calls from people falsely claiming to represent the IRS. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

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The Internal Revenue Service is warning last-minute tax filers to beware of scams as Tuesday’s deadline approaches.

Sarah Kull, IRS criminal investigation assistant special agent in charge, said common scams include callers pretending to be from the federal tax collection agency.

Each year, hundreds of Michigan taxpayers fall prey to such scammers, said Kull, who spoke during a media roundtable Friday at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown Detroit.

In one recent year, 348 state residents were bilked out of nearly $1.6 million, she said.

“This could involve impersonating an IRS employee by phone, or knocking on doors,” said Kull. “At no time will the IRS ever call someone on the phone demanding money.”

Typically, a scam artist will demand an electronic payment or personal financial information.

“The taxpayer may provide a debit card or payment over the phone and there’s where that figure (almost $1.6 million) comes from.”

She advised that anyone who gets such a call should hang up.

“Don’t provide any information,” Kull said. “Go to our website, IRS.gov and there is information there on how to report those calls.”

Some of the more recent IRS Criminal Investigation cases include that of Belinda Johnson, the owner of a Westland tax preparation business who pleaded guilty last week to falsifying information on clients’ returns.

“She was inflating expenses for her clients to obtain more business,” said Kull. “She (pleaded) guilty and the maximum penalty is up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.”

Federal authorities alleged that Johnson, who owns B.P.M. Group LLC, helped prepare and file 33 returns for tax years 2013 and 2014 that claimed false deductions that included charitable contributions, education expenses and child care costs.

“We just want to show that criminal investigation is out there enforcing the tax laws,” said Kull.

To report suspected tax fraud schemes and scams to the Detroit field office, email IRS-CI.Michigan@ci.irs.gov.

SLewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

Tips for last-minute filers

The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid waiting until April 18 to file their returns. But for those who procrastinated, the agency offers these tips and resources:

■Review returns carefully: Taxpayers who rush to beat the deadline may miss a tax benefit or, worse, make a mistake. Errors usually delay tax refunds and could result in a letter from the IRS.

Validate e-signature: Taxpayers who changed tax software products for 2017 may need their prior-year adjusted gross income to validate their electronic signature. Learn more at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return at IRS.gov. Always keep a copy of tax returns.

Find help online: Lots of information is available at irs.gov, including an Interactive Tax Assistant, Tax Trails, Frequently Asked Questions, Tax Topics and IRS Tax Maps.

Use IRS Free File: Taxpayers who made $64,000 or less can use this free tax software to prepare their federal tax return. Free File Fillable Forms is available for those who made more than that.

File electronically: Taxpayers are 20 times less likely to make a mistake with an e-filed return compared with a paper return. Tax software catches and corrects common filing errors and alerts users to overlooked tax credits and deductions. Find e-filing options at IRS.gov.

File on time: Taxpayers who owe but can’t pay in full by the April 18 due date should still file on time and pay as much as possible. This will reduce potential penalties and interest charges. For unpaid taxes, people may apply for an installment agreement to pay over time. The easiest way to apply is to use the Online Payment Agreement application on IRS.gov. To apply by mail, use IRS Form 9465.

Request an extension:People can request a six-month extension electronically through tax software, including FreeFile, by using Form 4868. A reminder: An extension to file a tax return is not an extension to pay taxes owed.

Visit a local IRS office: Taxpayers can find most answers online at IRS.gov, but if they need in-person assistance, they will need to make an appointment.

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