Sometimes a tax notice is a good thing.
That was the case for a Georgia man who paid his county taxes. Or so he thought.
But a follow-up notice prompted him to raise questions about the prior payments.
And that led last week to the arrest of a clerk at the Spalding County Tax Commissioner's office on charges of theft and forgery.
Paid taxes not paid: The two theft charges come from the taxpayer's payment of his taxes in cash. The alleged forgeries were from receipts for those payments.
Before these incidents were reported, the Spalding County tax commissioner also noticed payment inconsistencies over the last few months, according to local news reports.
Investigators with the county sheriff's office allege the clerk changed records to show false refunds or payment of less than was due. She also allegedly failed to credit taxpayer accounts, and did not provide receipts to the taxpayers.
The 27-year-old woman accused of the crimes charged turned herself into authorities. She was released after posting bail.
Don't make it easy for tax crooks: The Georgia Department of Revenue has a special online page with tips on how taxpayers can protect themselves from tax fraud.
However, that web page focuses on external threats, not those from within an official tax office.
To help fill that void, here are four additional tax payment protection tips.
1. Make sure your tax bill is correct. When it comes to property taxes that typically are assessed and paid at the county (or parish, for Louisiana residents) level, that starts with your property's appraisal. It you think the value is too high, appeal it.
But there also can be issues with the bill itself. Everyone, including tax officials at all levels, makes mistakes.
Errors are particularly common when it comes to real estate taxes, as noted in a prior post Making sure your property tax bill is correct. So before you pay, make sure you are paying the correct amount.
2. Don't pay with cash. No judging or victim blaming here. I don't know why the Georgia taxpayer chose to pay in cash. And I'm definitely glad that his actions led to further investigation.
But if you have a bank account, write a check to pay your tax bill. Or use a credit card if your tax office accepts that type of payment.
Either way, you'll have another level of substantiation, from your bank's record of paying the check or your credit card statement.
For those who don't have bank accounts, use a money order to pay your tax bill. The payment on the payment document to the official taxing entity. It cannot simply be pocketed by an unscrupulous employee.
3. Get a receipt. Yes, I know, this didn't help in the Georgia case where receipts allegedly were faked. But it will show that you believed you paid your tax bill.
This record keeping practice applies to all tax transactions. You always want verification for you peace of mind, as well as back-up in case a tax official has questions.
And if there is something criminal going on with your payment, it will help investigators track down the perpetrator.
4. Follow up any follow-up questions. If you get any tax notice, from any level of government, don't ignore it.
That's especially true if the follow-up correspondence, like the one received by the allegedly cheated Georgia taxpayer, is an alert that you didn't pay your tax bill.
While dealing with tax officials can be intimidating, you need to make sure that the officials are operating with complete and correct information. So make sure they have it.
Your due diligence in following up tax questions could, as in the Georgia case, protect not only you, but also the tax officials.
You also might find these items of interest:
- 3 lessons from Hunter Biden's tax pleas
- Don't ignore that IRS letter and nine other tax notice tips
- Dirty Dozen tax scam list for 2023 has old & new schemes
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