Beware of tax schemes that promise to reduce your taxes
How to recognize a tax scheme
As Canadians get ready to file their taxes, the CRA reminds everyone to be cautious of tax schemes.
Here are some common elements of tax schemes:
- they are positioned as financial products or business opportunities
- they are advertised (internet, social media, newspapers, fliers sent to households)
- there is often a sales pitch (free info session, paid seminar, webinars)
- they promise tax savings which often include large returns on small investments
- a portion of the anticipated tax refund is the promoter’s fee
- they seem “too good to be true”
Promoters of tax schemes are often polished and professional, and go to great lengths to make the schemes look legitimate.
Here is the general profile of a tax promoter:
- very personable and charming
- delivers polished presentations
- can be an individual or a group
- will receive a commission or payment from you and/or your investment
- may claim the scheme is approved by the CRA
- provides letters from professionals
- discourages you to seek a second opinion
- discourages you to speak with the CRA
If you are approached by a tax preparer who offers unusually or uncharacteristically large refunds, this can mean questionable practices. Do not assume that these schemes and the promised tax benefits are legal under the Income Tax Act. While most preparers provide excellent service to tax filers, there are dishonest ones who file false or fraudulent tax returns. If you suspect anything suspicious, get a second opinion.
Remember that even if someone else prepares your tax return, you are responsible for all the information on the return.
Your actions may have serious consequences
Through increased audits of promoters, improved information gathering and informing taxpayers on how to recognize tax schemes, the CRA continues to identify and shut down tax schemes.
Those who choose to participate in these schemes, as well as those who promote these schemes, face serious consequences, including penalties, court fines and even jail time. Also, as a participant, you could end up being assessed additional taxes in addition to the fee you already paid to the promoter.
The CRA has a responsibility to regularly update Canadians on current schemes that are offensive under the Income Tax Act and to educate Canadians to avoid these schemes. It is actively going after tax promoters to ensure greater fairness in the tax system. The CRA can apply third-party penalties against tax preparers, promoters, and other third parties who intentionally file or prepare false statements, or omit information on other individuals’ income tax returns. The CRA will also investigate and prosecute those who promote and counsel others to commit tax evasion.
What can you do?
Get professional, independent advice
Get a second opinion. If you are being sold or proposed a deal that seems too good to be true, you should seek independent advice from a reputable tax professional. Ask questions or enquire further before submitting your return.
Here are some other tips to help protect yourself:
- Be informed about who you are dealing with at tax time and what their qualifications are.
- Stay away from tax preparers who offer you false tax claims such as charitable donations, child care expense claims, or even business expenses or losses. It is not worth the risk. There are serious consequences to you.
- If you don’t understand your return, don’t be shy about asking questions.
- Make sure the tax preparer gives you a copy of your return for your records.
- Never sign a blank tax form.
- Generally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Come to us before we come to you
The CRA is always on the lookout for tax schemes and is also focusing on the promoters of these schemes. Did you willingly participate in one? If so, the CRA encourages taxpayers to come forward and correct their tax affairs through the Voluntary Disclosures Program.
If you make a full disclosure before any enforcement action is started and before the CRA receives information regarding your potential involvement in tax non-compliance, you may only have to pay the taxes owing plus interest in part or in full and would be eligible for relief from prosecution and, in some cases, from penalties.
Help us ensure tax fairness for all Canadians
Your tax dollars fund social programs that benefit our communities. People who evade taxes are taking resources away from all Canadians.
If you suspect someone of tax cheating, you can report a lead to the CRA. Steps will be taken to protect your identity, also, you may provide information anonymously. Information related to suspected international tax cheating should be submitted to the Offshore Tax Informant Program.
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