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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The number of taxpayers trying to bamboozle the IRS and collect bigger refunds has shot up this filing season.The IRS identified 335,341 tax returns claiming $1.9 billion in fraudulent refunds as of March 4, 2011, according to the findings of an audit conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. That's a whopping 181% increase from the same period last year.
While the IRS has become more effective in its screening process, a weak economy has also driven more people to cut corners, said Tim Gagnon, assistant academic specialist of Accounting at Northeastern University.
"When the economy gets really bad, people get more touchy about how much they're paying in taxes and look at where they think they can push the envelope a little more," said Gagnon. "100 extra dollars really makes a difference to people now."
Many taxpayers tried to boost their refunds or reduce their tax liability by claiming deductions and credits they didn't qualify for, TIGTA found.Not all of the so-called "fraudulent" returns are a result of taxpayers trying to scam the system, said Gagnon. Many taxpayers were in such a pinch financially last year that they were less likely to hire a professional to prepare their taxes -- often resulting in more incorrect claims, outdated deductions and other common errors.