People make mistakes on their taxes all the time. Most people have very limited education and experience regarding their own taxes, yet they are expected to do them on their own — unless they want to pay someone to do it for them. This leads to many errors, some more serious than others.
While you may feel nervous about these tax mistakes, do not assume that the penalties for such a mistake could include criminal charges. The IRS is not out calling for the arrest of every person who reported something inaccurately or forgot to enter some of their information.
That said, tax fraud is illegal and can carry all sorts of ramifications. You could get arrested. You could face fines. You could spend time in jail.
The key is to remember that fraud, a type of white-collar crime, is not the same as making a mistake. For your actions to qualify as fraud, you have to take them intentionally. You have to attempt to willfully commit fraud against the government for your own financial gain. Intent changes everything.
If you know that you’re not reporting your income properly and you go ahead and do it anyway, that may be a crime. If you simply make a paperwork error when you’re trying your best to do everything properly, that is not a crime. That’s a mistake that you should get a chance to rectify when you discover what happened.
These situations can get confusing. If you have been accused of white-collar crime, especially if you think you just made an honest mistake, be sure you understand your legal rights.