Archive for the ‘IRS’ Category

IRS Data Breach Impacted 334,000, Not 100,000 as IRS First Said

Monday, August 17th, 2015

The IRS announced today that the data breach impacting the online version of the “Get Transcript” application impacted approximately 334,000 taxpayers, not the 104,000 the agency had first said. The IRS will offer free credit monitoring services to victims.

The news story indicates that the breach began last November, not in February of this year as the IRS first thought.

Being a cynic, I wonder if the IRS’s announcement last week regarding free credit monitoring services has to do with today’s announcement. I’m probably wrong; I mean has the IRS done anything in the last couple of years where cynics have been proven right? Maybe I should rephrase that….

IRS: Free Identity Protection Services After a Data Breach Isn’t Includable in Income

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

The IRS noted Announcement 2015-22 today, that states:

[T]he IRS will not assert that an individual whose personal information may have been compromised in a data breach must include in gross income the value of the identity protection services provided by the organization that experienced the data breach. Additionally, the IRS will not assert that an employer providing identity protection services to employees whose personal information may have been compromised in a data breach of the employer’s (or employer’s agent or service provider’s) recordkeeping system must include the value of the identity protection services in the employees’ gross income and wages.

Generally, any accession to wealth is includable in income, and there’s a value for the data protection services. Of course, one of the largest data breaches this year was at the hands of…the IRS. While this is a clearly common sense approach, still one must wonder if the IRS would have released this announcement if one of the biggest entities to cause a data breach wasn’t the IRS.

Scammers Now Mailing Phony IRS Letters

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

The phone scammers are now going to the US mail. According to both the IRS and tax professionals, the scammers are broadening their efforts. Sure, they’re now committing mail fraud but since they’re already committing one crime what’s another?

So let’s say you get a letter and you’re not sure if it’s from the IRS. First, send a copy of it to your tax professional. He may be able to identify if it’s real or not. If you don’t owe any money to the IRS, a letter demanding payment is very unlikely to be real. If you’re not using a tax professional, call the IRS (800-829-1040).

If it’s phony, you can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484. If it came through the mail, you can also report it to the US Postal Inspection Service (you can also call 800-275-8777). If it came through the mail, save the envelope it came from. That, too, will likely be another clue: Official IRS mail will usually be in window envelopes that say “Official Business, Penalty for Private Use, $300″ and will state “Presorted First Class Mail…” with the IRS’s permit number.

In the IRS press release, the IRS notes,

The IRS will never:

  • Angrily demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Do not get taken by these scammers. Instead, let’s take them all to ClubFed.

Deadline Changes for 2016 Tax Returns and 2016 FBAR

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Congress passed and President Obama signed the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 in late July. That law’s primary function has nothing to do with tax; however, it will have a major impact on entity tax returns for 2016 and for the 2016 FBARs:

  • Partnership tax returns will be due on March 15th, not April 15th (for calendar year partnerships);
  • C Corporation tax returns will be due on April 15th, not March 15th (for calendar year C Corporations);
  • S Corporation tax returns remain due on March 15th (unchanged); and
  • FBARs (FINCEN Form 114) will be due on April 15th, not June 30th.  An extension for six months will be available (until October 15th).

The most important change for my practice is the FBAR. Here’s the exact change in the law:

The due date of FinCEN Report 114 (relating to Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) shall be April 15 with a maximum extension for a 6-month period ending on October 15 and with provision for an extension under rules similar to the rules in Treas. Reg. section 1.6081–5. For any taxpayer required to file such Form for the first time, any penalty for failure to timely request for, or file, an extension, may be waived by the Secretary.

It is unclear whether a separate extension for the FBAR will need to be filed. The reference to Treasury Regulation 1.6081-5 is for the automatic two-month extension of time to file for those residing outside the United States, so it appears those who do so reside will have a June 15th deadline for filing the FBAR (with a four-month extension available until October 15th).

There are several other deadline changes in the law, but they all are for 2015 returns due in 2016 (not 2014 returns due in 2015). Also, because Friday, April 15, 2016 is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia the deadline for tax returns will be extended to Monday, April 18, 2016. However, it is likely the deadline for FBARs will not be extended from April 15, 2016. The deadline for FBARs is a receipt deadline, not a postmark deadline, as is not extended if the deadline falls on a weekend or holiday. My strong suspicion is that this change in deadline could be a huge FUBAR given the three day extension for tax returns in 2016. We will have to see if common sense exists within FINCEN or if bureaucratic regulatory procedures take precedence (which is what I suspect will happen).

Judge Threatens IRS, Justice Department; IRS Closely Monitored Tax-Exempt Applications; IRS Responses to Exempt Organizations Were Designed to Stop Inquiries to Congress

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Yes, I’m still on vacation. But twin developments in the IRS scandal force me to post. Yesterday, the IRS released documents to Judicial Watch regarding the IRS scandal. Judicial Watch had sued the IRS under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the documents.

I need to be brief (I am on vacation), so I’ll just include the summary page:

“These recovered Lois Lerner emails had to be dragged out of the Obama IRS, which is still resisting a federal court order requiring disclosure of Lerner’s ‘lost’ emails,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This material shows that the IRS’ cover-up began years ago. We now have smoking-gun proof that top officials in the Obama IRS unlawfully harassed taxpayers just to keep them from complaining to Congress about IRS’ targeting and abuse. No wonder the Obama IRS has had such little interest in preserving or finding Lois Lerner’s emails.”

Yes, the IRS lied to Congress. There’s no other way of putting it. And to me it seems more and more likely that someone in the Administration ordered the targeting.

Today was a scheduled “status hearing” in Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit. Judge Sullivan was not happy with the IRS. He issued the following order:

At the July 29, 2015 status hearing, the Government agreed that the Court’s July 1, 2015 oral order from the bench was clear and enforceable. Nonetheless, the Government reasoned it inappropriate to file a motion for reconsideration until a written order was issued. As expressed at the hearing, the Government’s reasoning is nonsensical. Officers of the Court who fail to comply with Court orders will be held in contempt. Also, in the event of non-compliance with future Court orders, the Commissioner of the IRS and others shall be directed to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of Court. The Court’s July 1, 2015 ruling from the bench stands: (1) the Government shall produce relevant documents every Monday; (2) the Government’s document production shall be accompanied by a status report that indicates (a) whether TIGTA has turned over any new documents to the IRS, (b) if so, the number of documents, and (c) a timeframe for the IRSs production of those documents. Signed by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on July 29, 2015.

Judge Sullivan is definitely annoyed with the IRS and the Department of Justice’s conduct in this case. I’ll again note Judicial Watch’s summary as it really says it all:

“In a dramatic court hearing today, Judge Sullivan made it clear he would personally hold accountable the IRS Commissioner Koskinen and Justice Department attorneys for any further contempt of his court orders in Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The missing and-then-not missing Lois Lerner saga is a stark example of the Obama administration’s contempt for a federal court and the rule of law. That Obama administration officials would risk jail rather than disclose these Lerner documents shows that the IRS scandal has just gotten a whole lot worse.”

I now return to my regularly scheduled vacation.

Judicial Watch: IRS Used Donor Lists to Target Audits

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Remember the IRS Scandal? Well, the nuggets continue to drip out. On Friday, Judicial Watch announced that “New Documents Show IRS Used Donor Lists to Target Audits.” Here’s an excerpt:

But then, in February 2011, at least five donors of an unnamed organization were audited.

The documents show that Crossroads GPS, associated with Republican Karl Rove, was specifically referenced by IRS officials in the context of applying the gift tax. Seemingly in response to the Crossroads focus, on April 20, IRS attorney Lorraine Gardner emails a 501(c)(4) donor list to former Branch Chief in the IRS’ Office of the Chief Counsel James Hogan. Later, this information is apparently shared with IRS Estate Gift and Policy Manager Lisa Piehl while Gardner seeks “information about any of the donors.”

Needless to say, the IRS is supposed to ignore politics. Given an unnamed IRS official stating, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)(6) organization and may find itself under high scrutiny. One can only hope[,]” the reality is different.

Since the IRS and the Obama Administration is stonewalling Congress in telling what happened, what is Congress to do but cut the IRS’s budget. Frankly, it’s the only action they can do. I don’t like the choice, but it’s the only option available. If and when the IRS and the Obama Administration open up, hopefully the IRS’s budget will be increased but until then the taxpaying public (including tax professionals) is paying the price for the Obama Administration’s obfuscation.

Form 8300 and Poker

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

I’ve posted before on staking, but someone asked me the following question:

I’m a professional [poker player] and am going to be staked for the High Roller One Drop Tournament [a $111,111 buy-in tournament]. I’m going to be handed the cash to enter the tournament. What do I need to do?

Besides the normal staking issues (see these articles), there’s another issue: cash reporting. If you’re a business and you receive a payment of $10,000 or more in cash or like funds (this would include casino chips but would not include a cashier’s check), you have a reporting requirement: You must file Form 8300 with the IRS.

A professional poker player is operating a business and is required to comply with the laws impacting businesses. This includes cash reporting requirements. You have 15 days from the date of the cash transaction to report it. This is done by either mailing Form 8300 to the IRS or by filing it electronically through the BSA efile website. Note that if you use the BSA efile system you will have to register (required for Form 8300 efiling).

Like most penalties related to the Bank Secrecy Act, the penalties are on the ridiculous side. While the Failure to File penalty is just $100, the Intentional Failure to File penalty is the greater of $25,000 or the amount of the cash transaction (to a maximum of $100,000).

The IRS does take questions regarding Form 8300. You can call the IRS at 866-270-0733 or email questions to 8300questions@irs.gov

The BEA Responds, or Making IRS Customer Service Look Normal (Bad)

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

On Sunday I penned the post, “Making IRS Customer Service Look Good.” I now need to take that back. Why? I was greeted at 7am this morning by a phone call from an analyst from the Bureau of Economic Affairs.

He apologized for the issues that I had last week and confirmed:

1. The survey is required for all owners of 10% (or more) of foreign entities and US-owned foreign entities. This report is done every five years and is mandatory.

2. The BEA was stunned with the volume on inquiries last week on this survey. (I don’t think the BEA should have been surprised, but that’s another thing.) There phone system literally couldn’t handle the volume so in the best traditions of technology, it hung up on a lot of people. The extension, which normally must be sent in (similar to an extension for federal tax filing, Form 4868, where it’s automatic as long as you send in the paper/electronically file it) was made automatic because the BEA realized that they couldn’t handle the volume of extension requests.

3. Thus, most filers of the BEA-10 (“Survey of US Direct Investment Abroad”) have until June 30th to file.

Kudos to the BEA in reaching out and answering my questions. I do give the BEA a demerit for not appropriately publicizing this requirement. I would imagine there are numerous owners of foreign entities that are required to file the BEA-10 who still have no idea of the requirement. That said, I’m not sure how the BEA should publicize this; perhaps a notice sent to the American Bar Association?

Contrast the BEA being proactive with my call to the IRS Practitioner Priority Service yesterday. One of my clients closed his corporation in 2013 (filing a final return, closing it with the Corporation Commission in his state, etc.) and has moved so we needed to change the address with the IRS. (Yes, it’s a good idea to change the address for contact purposes as the IRS could audit the corporation’s returns.) I have a Power of Attorney for this corporation through the 2013 tax year, and the woman I spoke with questioned my ability to give a change-of-address for 2015 stating I would need a POA covering 2015. I noted to the IRS representative that there is no 2015 (or 2014) for this corporation; it would be the same thing as obtaining a POA for a deceased individual for the year after he died–impossible. In the end, I gave the representative the new address even after she told me she couldn’t confirm the IRS would do anything with it because I don’t have a POA covering 2015. Sigh….

IRS “Get Transcript” Application Hacked; 104,000 Tax Returns Illegally Accessed

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

This afternoon IRS Commissioner John Koskinen announced that criminals were able to use the IRS “Get Transcript” application to access approximately 104,000 tax returns. (An additional 100,000 or so attempts were unsuccessful.) From the Wall Street Journal:

Thieves used the information from prior years’ returns to help them file for fraudulent refunds, the IRS said.

The IRS said the matter is under review by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as well as the IRS’s Criminal Investigation unit. In addition, the agency said its “Get Transcript” application—which the identity thieves successfully penetrated—has been shut down temporarily.

The IRS said it would provide free credit monitoring services for the approximately 100,000 taxpayers whose accounts were accessed. The IRS said it identified 200,000 attempts to access data and will notify all of these taxpayers about the incident.

The Hill has the number of returns accessed at 104,000.

That the Get Transcript application is insecure isn’t a surprise. Over one year ago I wrote:

Meanwhile, the Get a Transcript has its own problems. My partner attempted to use the service, but it could not verify either him or his wife as living where he’s lived for years. Second, the verification information relies on publicly available information for many. (It did for my partner, myself, and one other individual.) This is anything but a secure system. (I have sent a request to TIGTA noting the weakness of the system and requesting that they audit it. If TIGTA audits this, it’s unlikely we will hear anything for many months–probably not until 2015.) [emphasis in original]

Last year TIGTA responded to my request and stated that there were no issues with “Get Transcript.” I suspect they’ve changed their mind on that.

Meanwhile, I continue to have issues with IRS notices. Today I spoke with the Practitioner Priority Service (after being on hold for 1.5 hours) regarding a client where I have both a Tax Information Authorization (Form 8821) and a Power of Attorney (Form 2848), either of which should have had me copied on the notices. PPS confirmed that the POA and Tax Information Authorization were on file for the year in question. They could not explain to me why I didn’t receive any of the notices sent to my client.

One solution to the identity theft fiasco is the modest proposal on identity theft I made back in 2012. Instead, identity theft continues to balloon, while the IRS limits the tools available to tax professionals. Is it any wonder the IRS is so loved?

UPDATE: The IRS released a statement on the breach. Here are excerpts:

The IRS announced today that criminals used taxpayer-specific data acquired from non-IRS sources to gain unauthorized access to information on approximately 100,000 tax accounts through IRS’ “Get Transcript” application. This data included Social Security information, date of birth and street address.

These third parties gained sufficient information from an outside source before trying to access the IRS site, which allowed them to clear a multi-step authentication process, including several personal verification questions that typically are only known by the taxpayer. The matter is under review by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as well as the IRS’ Criminal Investigation unit, and the “Get Transcript” application has been shut down temporarily. The IRS will provide free credit monitoring services for the approximately 100,000 taxpayers whose accounts were accessed. In total, the IRS has identified 200,000 total attempts to access data and will be notifying all of these taxpayers about the incident…

The IRS determined late last week that unusual activity had taken place on the application, which indicates that unauthorized third parties had access to some accounts on the transcript application. Following an initial review, it appears that access was gained to more than 100,000 accounts through the Get Transcript application.

In this sophisticated effort, third parties succeeded in clearing a multi-step authentication process that required prior personal knowledge about the taxpayer, including Social Security information, date of birth, tax filing status and street address before accessing IRS systems. The multi-layer process also requires an additional step, where applicants must correctly answer several personal identity verification questions that typically are only known by the taxpayer.

I question that the answers to these questions are only known by the taxpayer. The questions I was asked could be discovered through a search of public records. It would be time consuming but entirely possible for a stranger who had my social security number and date of birth to answer all the other verification questions.

730

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

It’s a topic that, frankly, bores the media. It’s a topic that the current Administration would love to go away. It’s a topic that should never have arisen. It’s a topic that underlies the current crisis that impacts the IRS. It’s the IRS scandal.

It’s not something that you will see often in the newspapers. Surprisingly, today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal carried an op-ed from Victor Davis Hanson (that first appeared in the National Review) titled “America’s Politicized Tax Enforcement Is a Harbinger of Decline.” Mr. Hanson argues that when the law becomes negotiable civilization collapses. The IRS scandal is yet one way that we are not a nation of laws–and that appears to be the direct result of the current Administration.

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal had an editorial titled, “The IRS Goes to Court.” You usually can’t tell how an appellate court will rule from oral arguments; that wasn’t the case here. As noted by the Journal,

Poor Ms. McLaughlin was sent to argue the indefensible so the IRS can delay discovery until the waning days of the Obama Administration. “If I were you, I would go back and ask your superiors whether they want us to represent that the government’s position in this case is that the government is free to unconstitutionally discriminate against its citizens for 270 days,” said Judge Garland.

Ms. McLaughlin replied, “Well, I will take that back.” The Beltway media may be bored, but the IRS scandal is a long way from over.

Have you tried to call the IRS lately? I have to as part of my job. I even get through–sometimes. I have to call tomorrow and maybe I’ll get lucky. Coincidentally, Karen Hawkins, Director of the IRS’s Office of Professional Responsibility, recently submitted her resignation. In her letter to the tax professional community, she said (in part):

I have had the pleasure to meet and talk with literally thousands of you at this juncture. I know you are solid ethical and professional people making every effort to serve your clients and tax administration in appropriate ways. It is important as you continue in your profession that you remain mindful of the overriding broad ethical principles contained in Circular 230 and resist the temptations to “get away with” the behavior less scrupulous individuals use to lure and keep clients. The recent litigation setbacks associated with tax return preparer regulation have been discouraging for all of us. Unfortunately, I have no crystal ball on the topic. I do know, however, that it is crucial for those of you who believe an ethical, fair, transparent and credible tax administration system is absolutely essential to this country to continue to practice your trade at the highest level and to press others for the same.

I agree with Ms. Hawkins that an ethical, fair, transparent and credible tax administration is essential. That said, I believe the IRS’s priorities should change to help implement that:

– Why is the IRS engaging in a “Washington Monument” strategy with their declining budget? (A “Washington Monument” strategy is to cut the most visible areas or most appreciated areas first.)
– Why is the IRS having employees while on the clock doing work for the employees’ union?
– Why is the IRS deliberately engaging in actions that are not fair, transparent, and credible such as the Z Street litigation?
– Why have many actions of the IRS impinged on tax professionals ability to service clients? Not only does this increase the workload for tax professionals, it increases the workload for the IRS.

The IRS’s budget isn’t going to be increased until the root cause of the IRS scandal is known. That’s a fact. It’s now been over 730 days (Monday will be day 732) that the scandal has been ongoing. If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, we’ll likely know what happened by day 1460. Otherwise, who knows.