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IRS adjusting site pages to curb fraud

The agency is tweaking the technology in its Web pages so that people surfing the Web for ways to avoid paying taxes won't pull up exactly what they are looking for.

The Internal Revenue Service is tweaking the technology in its Web pages so that people surfing the Web to research ways of avoiding taxes will turn up the agency's fraud pages instead.

The IRS publishes information on the Internet about suspect tax schemes and online scams. The agency is trying to make those pages more prominent in search results by using key words or metatags, code that is not visible to Web surfers, but helps search engines find relevant sites. Sample metatags the IRS is looking at include the terms "pay no tax" and "form 1040."

For instance, typing the words "pay no tax" into MSN and Google search engines on Thursday turned up links to sites with text such as "beat the IRS" and "offshore banking."

Many sites touting tax schemes are of questionable legality, the IRS said.

"There (are) many Web sites promoting schemes and questionable tax type situations, and as a consumer alert, we wanted consumers to weigh the pros and cons," said Patti Reid, spokeswoman for the IRS's Criminal Investigation unit.

Reid said that the IRS pages did not always come up when key words were entered, but that they are working on the technology so that an individual "can make a more educated decision."

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill estimated last year that there were "thousands" of sites online dealing with tax evasion. And according to a recent report from the General Accounting Office, about 740,000 taxpayers used "abusive tax schemes" in 2000, costing the agency between $28 billion and $48 billion in revenue. The General Accounting Office is the investigative arm of Congress.

The IRS hopes to have new search improvements running by the end of the summer.