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American Hustle

Tracking some of the more creative write-offs in IRS history

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Illustration Danny Hellman

Pretty much everybody tries to save a little dough come April 15, but most people are smart enough to avoid antagonizing the IRS by claiming outrageous deductions. Some folks, on the other hand, take a liberal view of “expenses” and don’t care who knows it. Here, a few of the more absurd claims to make it across the desks of tax auditors.

disptaches1One for the birds
An accountant in Phoenix actually let this one slide: A local businessman who distrusted technology so much that he refused to use a phone or a computer bought carrier pigeons to communicate with his partner, according to reports. He wrote them off as a business expense—and got away with it.

disptaches2The cost of rock ’n’ roll
Rock stars are known for using artistic license with business expenses, but the IRS won’t let you claim some things no matter how great a guitar player you are. One agent tells of a band that tried to deduct a five-figure amount labeled “drugs” under “travel & entertainment” expenses. Nope.

disptaches3When FedEx just won’t do
For a painter, paint spatulas are a reasonable business expense. But according to Bankrate.com, a man in New Jersey once tried to deduct the airfare he spent to fly to Brazil because he purchased spatulas while there. The man’s CPA was not pleased.

disptaches4Call it “creative consulting”
After his furniture store burned to the ground, a Pittsburgh man rightly reported the insurance money as income, according to LegalZoom. The man then claimed $10,000 in expenses for a “consulting fee.” An audit revealed who did the consulting: the arsonist who burned the store down.

disptaches5When the taxman bursts your bubble
According to TurboTax, a man from smoggy northern New Jersey claimed a deduction for enclosing himself and his family in a “bubble of pure air.” The IRS balked, of course, but the sheer audacity of the claim, it is said, did help the man avoid penalties for fraud.


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