Beware – The Dirty Dozen Tax Scams!!!

Taxsmith, LLC would like to remind taxpayers to use caution to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

The top 12 scams, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

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.

Here are Taxsmith’s and the IRS’s Top 12 Scams…

Identity Theft

Tax fraud through the use of identity theft tops the 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. The IRS has a comprehensive and aggressive identity theft strategy employing a three-pronged effort focusing on fraud prevention, early detection and victim assistance. 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.

We know identity theft is a frustrating and complex process for victims.  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.

Phishing

Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes ANY type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS has information that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

Return Preparer Fraud

About 60% 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.

Taxsmith urges taxpayers to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return. Taxpayers should only use preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs).

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, 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

Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes promise refunds to people who have little or no income and normally don’t have a tax filing requirement – and are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives.

Scammers prey on low income individuals and the elderly and members of church congregations with bogus promises of free money. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice including encouraging taxpayers to make fictitious claims for refunds or rebates based on false statements of entitlement to tax credits. For example, some promoters claim they can obtain for their victims, often senior citizens, a tax refund or nonexistent stimulus payment based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, even if the victim was not enrolled in or paying for college. Con artists also falsely claim that refunds are available even if the victim went to school decades ago. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone.

There are also a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but uses inflated information to complete the return.

Beware: Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.

Impersonation of Charitable Organizations

Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud is scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters.

Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists can use a variety of tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

They may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims. As in the case of a recent disaster, Hurricane Sandy, the IRS cautions both victims of natural disasters and people wishing to make charitable donations to avoid scam artists by following these tips:

  • To help disaster victims, donate to recognized charities.
  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords, to anyone who solicits  a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (1-866-562-5227) if you are a disaster victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues.

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

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.

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.

If you should have any additional questions in regards to the “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams” please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Taxsmith at info@taxsmith.com or at 888-741-0272.

This entry was posted in news on 2013 - Nov

Special Tax Benefits for Armed Forces Personnel

If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Taxsmith wants you to know about the many tax benefits that may apply to you. Special tax rules apply to military members on active duty, including those serving in combat zones. These rules can help lower your federal taxes and make it easier to file your tax return.

Here are some of those benefits…

1. Deadline Extensions.  Qualifying military members, including those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. This includes automatic extensions of time to file tax returns and pay taxes.

2. Combat Pay Exclusion.  If you serve in a combat zone, you can exclude certain combat pay from your income. You won’t need to show the exclusion on your tax return because qualified pay isn’t included in the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Some service outside a combat zone also qualifies for this exclusion.

3. Earned Income Tax Credit.  You can choose to include nontaxable combat pay as earned income to figure your EITC. You would make this choice if it increases your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay remains nontaxable.

4. Moving Expense Deduction.  If you move due to a permanent change of station, you may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs.

5. Uniform Deduction.  You can deduct the costs and upkeep of certain uniforms that regulations prohibit you from wearing while off duty. You must reduce your expenses by any reimbursement you receive for these costs.

6. Signing Joint Returns.  Both spouses normally must sign joint income tax returns. However, when one spouse is unavailable due to certain military duty or conditions, the other may, in some cases sign for both spouses, or will need a power of attorney to file a joint return.

7. Reservists’ Travel Deduction.  If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain travel expenses on your tax return. You can deduct unreimbursed expenses for traveling more than 100 miles away from home to perform your reserve duties.

8. Nontaxable ROTC Allowances.   Educational and subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.

9. Civilian Life.  After leaving the military, you may be able to deduct certain job hunting expenses. Expenses may include travel, resume preparation fees and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also be deductible.

10. Tax Help.  Most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season. Some also offer free tax help after April 15.

You can learn more about these tax benefits in Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide. The booklet is available on IRS.gov or you can contact Taxsmith, LLC to learn more about the special tax benefits for armed forces personnel. Please contact us at info@taxsmith.com or at 888.741.0272 and one of our qualified attorneys will be able to answer your questions.

This entry was posted in news on 2013 - Nov

Do You Have An Offshore Account in the U.K. or Australia?

Recently, the tax administrations from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced a plan to share tax information involving a multitude of trusts and companies holding assets on behalf of residents in jurisdictions throughout the world.

The three nations have each recently acquired a substantial amount of data revealing extensive use of such entities organized in a number of jurisdictions including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.  The data contains both the identities of the individual owners of these entities, as well as the advisors who assisted in establishing the entity structure.

 

The Internal Revenue Services (“IRS”), Australian Tax Office and HM Revenue & Customs have been working together to analyze this data and have uncovered information that may be relevant to tax administrations of other jurisdictions. Thus, they have developed a plan for sharing the data, as well as their preliminary analysis, if requested by those other tax administrations.

 

“This is part of a wider effort by the IRS and other tax administrations to pursue international tax evasion,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller. “Our cooperative work with the United Kingdom and Australia reflects a bigger goal of leaving no safe haven for people trying to illegally evade taxes.”

 

Taxsmith advises everyone that there is nothing illegal about holding assets through offshore entities; however, such offshore arrangements are often used to avoid or evade tax liabilities on income represented by the principal or on the income generated by the underlying assets. In addition, taxpayers should be made aware that if an advisor promotes such arrangements as a means for a taxpayer to avoid or evade tax liability or circumvent information reporting requirements they may also be subject to civil penalties or criminal prosecution.

 

It is expected that this multilateral cooperation and coordinated effort will allow many countries to efficiently process this information and effectively enforce any laws that may have been broken.  Increasingly, tax administrations are working together in this way to assist one another in identifying non-compliance with the tax laws.

 

U.S. taxpayers holding assets through offshore entities are encouraged to review their tax obligations with respect to these holdings, seek professional advice if necessary, and to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program where appropriateFailure to do so may result in significant penalties and possibly criminal prosecution. Taxsmith is always available for consultations in regards to offshore accounts and any other tax related issue. Please contact us at 888-741-0272 or at info@taxsmith.com.

 

 

This entry was posted in news on 2013 - Oct

Tips for Taxpayers Who Travel for Charity Work …

Do you travel while doing charity work? Some travel expenses may help lower your taxes if you itemize deductions when you file next year. Here are five tax tips the IRS wants you to know about travel while serving a charity.

 

1. You must volunteer to work for a qualified organization. Ask the charity about its tax-exempt status. You can also visit IRS.gov and use the Select Check tool to see if the group is qualified.

2. You may be able to deduct unreimbursed travel expenses you pay while serving as a volunteer. You can’t deduct the value of your time or services.

3. The deduction qualifies only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel. However, the deduction will qualify even if you enjoy the trip.

4. You can deduct your travel expenses if your work is real and substantial throughout the trip. You can’t deduct expenses if you only have nominal duties or do not have any duties for significant parts of the trip.

5. Deductible travel expenses may include:

  • Air, rail and bus transportation
  • Car expenses
  • Lodging costs
  • The cost of meals
  • Taxi fares or other transportation costs between the airport or station and your hotel

If you have ANY other questions please feel free to contact a Taxsmith attorney for further clarification at 888-741-0272 or at info@taxsmith.com. We look forward to working with you!

This entry was posted in news on 2013 - Oct

IRA Contribution Tips from Taxsmith, LLC

Taxsmith, LLC has important tips for you about setting aside money for your retirement in an Individual Retirement Arrangement.

1. You must be under age 70 1/2 at the end of the tax year in order to contribute to a traditional IRA.

2. You must have taxable compensation to contribute to an IRA. This includes income from wages, salaries, tips, commissions and bonuses. It also includes net income from self-employment. If you file a joint return, generally only one spouse needs to have taxable compensation.

3. You can contribute to your traditional IRA at any time during the year. You must make all contributions by the due date for filing your tax return. This due date does not include extensions. For most people this means you must contribute for 2012 by April 15, 2013. If you contribute between Jan. 1 and April 15, you should contact your IRA plan sponsor to make sure they apply it to the right year.

4. For 2012, the most you can contribute to your IRA is the smaller of either your taxable compensation for the year or $5,000. If you were 50 or older at the end of 2012 the maximum amount increases to $6,000.

5. Generally, you will not pay income tax on the funds in your traditional IRA until you begin taking distributions from it.

6. You may be able to deduct some or all of your contributions to your traditional IRA.

7. Use the worksheets in the instructions for either Form 1040A or Form 1040 to figure the amount of your contributions that you can deduct.

8. You may also qualify for the Savers Credit, formally known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit. The credit can reduce your taxes up to $1,000 (up to $2,000 if filing jointly). Use Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to claim the Saver’s Credit.

9. You must file either Form 1040A or Form 1040 to deduct your IRA contribution or to claim the Saver’s Credit.

10. See Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements, for more about IRA contributions.

This entry was posted in news on 2013 - Sep

TAXSMITH, LLC – Don’t Forget to Take Your Retirement Credit – AKA the Saver’s Credit!

Saving for your retirement can make you eligible for a tax credit worth up to $2,000. If you contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or to an IRA, you may be eligible for the Saver’s Credit.

Here are seven points that Taxsmith and the IRS would like you to know about the Saver’s Credit:

1. The Saver’s Credit is formally known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit. The credit can be worth up to $2,000 for married couples filing a joint return or $1,000 for single taxpayers.

2. Your filing status and the amount of your income affect whether you are eligible for the credit. You may be eligible for the credit on your 2012 tax return if your filing status and income are:

  • Single, married filing separately or qualifying widow or widower, with income up to $28,750
  • Head of Household with income up to $43,125
  • Married Filing Jointly, with income up to $57,500

3. You must be at least 18 years of age to be eligible. You also cannot have been a full-time student in 2012 nor claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

4. You must contribute to a qualified retirement plan by the due date of your tax return in order to claim the credit. The due date for most people is April 15.

5. The Saver’s Credit reduces the tax you owe.

6. Use IRS Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to claim the credit. Be sure to attach the form to your federal tax return. If you use IRS e-file the software will do this for you.

7. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for other tax benefits if you contribute to a retirement plan. For example, you may be able to deduct all or part of your contributions to a traditional IRA.

Tax relief attorneys at Taxsmith are here to answer any and all questions related to the world of tax! We will help you resolve IRS tax debt problems through the expertise of our income tax lawyers. Please contact us directly at 888.741.0272 or at info@taxsmith.com. We look forward to battling the IRS with you as your Tax Burden Rescue Team!

This entry was posted in news on 2013 - Apr