Tuesday, March 26, 2013

IRS Identifies Its Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2013 (3/26/13)

The IRS has released its annual Dirty Dozen of Tax Scams.  See IR-2013-33, here. [I will link here when I get the link.]  Some involve scams that I have discussed before on this blog or variations of those scams.  So, I have cut and pasted from the email to identify all of the identified scams, but will include the discussion only for the ones most relevant to this blog.  The balance of this blog is from the cut and paste.
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Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
The following are the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2013:
Identity Theft
Tax fraud through the use of identity theft tops this year’s Dirty Dozen list. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. In many cases, an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund.
Combating identity theft and refund fraud is a top priority for the IRS, and we are taking special steps to assist victims. For the 2013 tax season, the IRS has put in place a number of additional steps to prevent identity theft and detect refund fraud before it occurs. We have dramatically enhanced our systems, and we are committed to continuing to improve our prevention, detection and assistance efforts.
The IRS has a comprehensive and aggressive identity theft strategy employing a three-pronged effort focusing on fraud prevention, early detection and victim assistance. We are continually reviewing our processes and policies to ensure that we are doing everything possible to minimize identity theft incidents, to help those victimized by it and to investigate those who are committing the crimes.
The IRS continues to increase its efforts against refund fraud, which includes identity theft. During 2012, the IRS prevented the issuance of $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft, compared with $14 billion in 2011.
This January, the IRS also conducted a coordinated and highly successful identity theft enforcement sweep. The coast-to-coast effort against identity theft suspects led to 734 enforcement actions in January, including 298 indictments, informations, complaints and arrests. The effort comes on top of a growing identity theft effort that led to 2,400 other enforcement actions against identity thieves during fiscal year 2012. The Criminal Investigation unit has devoted more than 500,000 staff-hours to fighting this issue.
We know identity theft is a frustrating and complex process for victims.  The IRS has 3,000 people working on identity theft related cases – more than double the number in late 2011. And we have trained 35,000 employees who work with taxpayers to help with identity theft situations.
The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft issues, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and an assistance guide. For victims, the information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For other taxpayers, there are tips on how taxpayers can protect themselves against identity theft.
Taxpayers who believe they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. Taxpayers can call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. More information can be found on thespecial identity protection page.
[Discussion omitted]
Return Preparer Fraud
About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But, some unscrupulous preparers prey on unsuspecting taxpayers, and the result can be refund fraud or identity theft.
It is important to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return. This year, the IRS wants to remind all taxpayers that they should use only preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs).
The IRS also has created a new web page to assist taxpayers. For tips about choosing a preparer, red flags, details on preparer qualifications and information on how and when to make a complaint, visit www.irs.gov/chooseataxpro.
Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task.
IRS.gov has general information on reporting tax fraud. More specifically, you report abusive tax preparers to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. Download Form 14157 and fill it out or order by mail at 800-TAX FORM (800-829-3676). The form includes a return address.
Hiding Income Offshore
Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities, using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.
The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute tax evasion cases.
While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
Since 2009, 38,000 individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to comply with the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore will become increasingly more difficult.
At the beginning of 2012, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with DOJ to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.
The IRS has collected $5.5 billion so far from people who participated in offshore voluntary disclosure programs since 2009.
“Free Money” from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security
Impersonation of Charitable Organizations
False/Inflated Income and Expenses
Including income that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits, is another popular scam. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions.  This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution.
Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit although they were not eligible. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.
False Form 1099 Refund Claims
In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS. In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return.
Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.
Frivolous Arguments
Falsely Claiming Zero Wages
Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.
Sometimes, fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. Filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.
Disguised Corporate Ownership
Third parties are improperly used to request employer identification numbers and form corporations that obscure the true ownership of the business.
These entities can be used to underreport income, claim fictitious deductions, avoid filing tax returns, participate in listed transactions and facilitate money laundering, and financial crimes. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and bring the owners into compliance with the law.
Misuse of Trusts
For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some highly questionable transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.
IRS personnel have seen an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering a trust arrangement. 


  1. Steven Toscher and Edward Robbins join other former U.S. Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Service officials in requesting the Supreme Court to Uphold the Taxpayers Fifth Amendment Rights and Preclude the Use of Grand Jury Subpoenas Requiring the Production of Foreign Bank Records

  2. Jack, Offer in compromise is an IRS procedure to settle tax debts at a discount based on taxpayer's inability to pay. This procedure applies to tax debts under Title 26 (Internal Revenue Code). I am curious whether anyone has experience trying to compromise debts to the government under Title 31 (Bank Secrecy Act) and in particular the penalty for failure to list foreign financial accounts on the FBAR. If they cannot be settled with an OIC, how do you reach a deal with the government. And if you cannot, can the penalties be discharged in bankruptcy? The bankruptcy rules on tax debts would seem to be inapplicable, and I have little experience with other debts to the government. If the Anderson's had filed for bankruptcy, could the FTC fine have been discharged?

  3. I have never attempted to compromise an FBAR penalty, but I suspect that there is a way to do that and think the debt collection statute contemplates possible compromise so long as other alternatives are considered.

    As to bankruptcy, here is what I have recently added to my drafts of the books:

    The FBAR penalty is likely not dischargeable in bankruptcy because it is a nontax “penalty . . . for the benefit of a government unit, and is not compensation for actual pecuniary loss.” [ footnote cite to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7).]

    Best and thanks for your comments,

    Jack Townsend

  4. Jack

    There is a case (US vs Simonelli) where the court denied discharge of an FBAR penalty in bankruptcy for precisely the reason you cite -- that it was not a tax penalty.

  5. Thanks, I should have included the case. Thanks for the reminder.

    Also, in citing the case under my discussion of bankruptcy discharges generally, I add the following;

    I do note in this regard that the “in lieu of” penalties imposed under the offshore bank voluntary disclosure programs may be dischargeable because, while they may be in whole or in part, in lieu of FBAR penalties, they are assessed as miscellaneous penalties under the Internal Revenue Code.


    Jack Townsend

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