April 28, 2011

The 2011 Dirty Dozen Tax Scams

Following is the Dirty Dozen for 2011:

1. Zero Wages

Filing a phony wage-or-income-related informational return to replace a legitimate information return has been used as an illegal method to lower the amount of taxes owed. 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 of the variations of this scheme. Filings of this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

2. Abusive Retirement Plans

The IRS continues to find abuses in retirement plan arrangements, including Roth Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). The IRS is looking for transactions that taxpayers use to avoid the limits on contributions to IRAs, as well as transactions that are not properly reported as early distributions. Taxpayers should be wary of advisers who encourage them to shift appreciated assets at less than fair market value into IRAs or companies owned by their IRAs to circumvent annual contribution limits. Other variations have included the use of limited liability companies to engage in activity that is considered prohibited.

3. Filing False or Misleading Forms

IRS personnel are seeing various instances in which scam artists file false or misleading returns to claim refunds to which they are not entitled. In one variation of this scheme, a taxpayer seeks a refund by fabricating an information return and falsely claiming the corresponding amount as withholding. Phony information returns, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), which claims false withholding credits, are usually used to legitimize erroneous refund claims. One version of the scheme is based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for its citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to funds in those accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to their creditors, including the IRS.

The IRS continues to see instances in which people file false or fraudulent tax returns to try to obtain improper tax refunds. The IRS takes refund fraud seriously, has programs to aggressively combat it and stops the vast majority of incorrect refunds.

Because scammers often use information from family or friends in filing false or fraudulent returns, beware of requests for such data. Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits you are not entitled to 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.

4. Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage people to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous legal positions 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 or IRS guidance.

5. Return Preparer Fraud

While most return preparers are professionals who provide honest and excellent service to their clients, some make basic errors or engage in fraud and other illegal activities.

Dishonest return preparers can cause big trouble for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. These fraudsters derive benefit by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds, charging inflated fees for return preparation services and attracting new clients by making false promises. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. Federal courts have issued hundreds of injunctions ordering individuals to cease preparing returns, and the Department of Justice has pending complaints against dozens of others.

To increase confidence in the tax system and improve compliance with the tax law, the IRS is implementing a number of requirements for paid tax preparers, including registration with the IRS and a preparer tax identification number (PTIN), as well as competency tests and ongoing continuing professional education.

The new regulations require paid tax preparers (including attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents) to apply for a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) before preparing any federal tax returns in 2011.

Higher standards for the tax preparer community will result in greater compliance with tax laws, increase confidence in the tax system and ultimately lead to a better experience for taxpayers.

6. Hiding Income Offshore

The IRS aggressively pursues taxpayers involved in abusive offshore transactions as well as the promoters, professionals and others who facilitate or enable these schemes. Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or through the use of nominee entities. Taxpayers also evade taxes by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans.

In early February, the IRS announced a special voluntary disclosure initiative designed to bring offshore money back into the U.S. tax system and help people with undisclosed income from hidden offshore accounts get current with their taxes. The new voluntary disclosure initiative will be available through Aug. 31, 2011. The IRS decision to open a second special disclosure initiative follows continuing interest from taxpayers with foreign accounts. In response to numerous requests, information about this initiative is available on IRS.gov in eight different languages, including: Chinese, Farsi, German, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

7. Identity Theft and Phishing

Identity theft occurs when someone uses an unsuspecting individual’s name, Social Security number, credit card number or other personal information without permission to commit fraud or other crimes. For example, a criminal can use someone else's information to run up bills on that person's credit card, empty that person’s bank account or take out a loan in that person’s name. And when it comes to taxes, a criminal with someone else’s personal information can file a fraudulent tax return and collect a refund.

Phishing is one tactic used by scam artists to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal or financial information online. Phishing involves the use of phony e-mail or websites -- even social media. A scammer may pose as an institution such as the IRS. IRS impersonation schemes flourish during tax season. Spyware, which can be loaded onto an unsuspecting taxpayer’s computer by opening an e-mail attachment or clicking on a link, is another tool identity thieves use to steal personal information.

Identity theft is a major problem that affects many people each year. That's why it's important that taxpayers protect their personal information. Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. A suspicious e-mail or an “IRS” Web address that does not begin with http://www.irs.gov should be forwarded to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

8. Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

The IRS continues to observe the misuse of tax-exempt organizations. Abuse includes arrangements to improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or income from donated property. The IRS also continues to investigate various schemes involving the donation of non-cash assets including situations where several organizations claim the full value for both the receipt and distribution of the same non-cash contribution. Often these donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can repurchase the items later at a price set by the donor. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and set new definitions of qualified appraisals and qualified appraisers for taxpayers claiming charitable contributions.

9. Misuse of Trusts

For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are many legitimate, valid 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 to avoid income tax liability and hide assets from creditors, including the IRS.

IRS personnel have recently 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.

10. Disguised Corporate Ownership

Corporations and other entities are formed and operated in certain states for the purpose of disguising the ownership of the business or financial activity by means such as improperly using a third party to request an employer identification number.

Such entities can be used to facilitate underreporting of income, fictitious deductions, non-filing of tax returns, participating in listed transactions, money laundering, financial crimes and even terrorist financing. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and to bring the owners of these entities into compliance with the law.

11. Nontaxable Social Security Benefits with Exaggerated Withholding Credit

The IRS has identified returns where taxpayers report nontaxable Social Security Benefits with excessive withholding. This tactic results in no income reported to the IRS on the tax return. Often both the withholding amount and the reported income are incorrect. Taxpayers should avoid making these mistakes. Filings of this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

12. Fuel Tax Credit Scams

The IRS receives claims for the fuel tax credit that are excessive. Some taxpayers, such as farmers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes, may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals are claiming the tax credit for nontaxable uses of fuel when their occupations or income levels make the claim unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

April 25, 2011

IRS Notices And Letters

What do those letters sent by the IRS mean? Here's a list of some of the standard letters along with an explanation of what they mean:

Letters and Notices Offering an Appeal

Letter 525 – General 30 Day Letter

This letter accompanies a report giving you a computation of the proposed adjustments to your tax return. It informs you of the courses of action to take if you do not agree with the proposed adjustments. The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustment, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publications explain how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 531 – Notice of Deficiency

This letter is notice of the Commissioner's determination that you owe additional tax or other amounts for the tax year(s) identified in the letter. The Internal Revenue Code authorizes the Commissioner to send this notice. The letter explains how to dispute the adjustments in the notice of deficiency if you do not agree. To dispute the adjustments without payment, you file a petition with the Tax Court within 90 days from the notice date.

Letter 692 – Request for Consideration of Additional Findings

This letter accompanies a report giving you a computation of the proposed adjustments to your tax return. It informs you of the courses of action to take if you do not agree with the proposed adjustments. The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustment, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publications explain how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 15 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 915 – Letter to Transmit Examination Report

This letter explains adjustments in amount of tax. The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustment, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publications explain how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 950 – 30 Day Letter-Straight Deficiency or Over-Assessment

This letter is used for unagreed, straight deficiency, straight overassessment or mixed deficiency and overassessment field examination cases. This letter may be used for various types of tax. The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustment, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publications explain how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 1153 – Trust Funds Recovery Penalty Letter

This letter explains that the IRS’s efforts to collect the federal employment or excise taxes due from the business named on the letter have not resulted in full payment of the liability. Therefore, the IRS proposes to assess a penalty against you. If you agree with this penalty for each tax period shown, you are asked to sign Part 1 of the enclosed Form 2751 and return it to the person/office that sent you the letter. If you do not agree you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publications explain how you file a protest. You need to file your protest within 60 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal this decision with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 3016 – IRC Section 6015 Preliminary Determination Letter (30 Day)

This is a preliminary letter giving you 30 days to appeal the determination for innocent spouse relief under IRC Section 6015. The letter explains that if you do not agree with the determination you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter explains how you file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 3391 – 30-Day Nonfiler Letter

This letter advises you the IRS believes you are liable for filing tax returns for the periods identified in the letter. It includes a report giving you a computation of the proposed adjustments to your tax return and explains the adjustments. The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustments, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publications explain how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 3727 – 30-Day Letter Notifying Taxpayer No Change to Original Report Disallowing EIC Based on Failure to Meet Residency Test for Children Claimed

This letter explains why the IRS will not allow your earned income credit (EIC). The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustment, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publication explains how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 3728 – 30-Day Letter Notifying Taxpayer No Change to Original Report Partially Disallowing EIC Based on Failure to Meet Residency Test for 1 Child

This letter explains why the IRS can only give you part of your earned income credit (EIC). The letter explains that if you agree with the adjustment, you sign and return the agreement form. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter or referenced publication explains how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

Collection Letters

Letter 11 – Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing

This letter is to notify you of your unpaid taxes and that the Service intends to levy to collect the amount owed. The letter and referenced publications explain how to request an appeal if you do not agree. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your levy notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the proposed action with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 1058 – Final Notice Reply Within 30 Days

This letter is to notify you of your unpaid taxes and that the Service intends to levy to collect the amount owed. The letter and referenced publications explain how to request an appeal if you do not agree. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your levy notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the action with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 1085 – 30-Day Letter Proposed 6020(b) Assessment

This letter is to notify you of your unpaid taxes and that the Service intends to levy to collect the amount owed. The letter and referenced publications explain how to request an appeal if you do not agree. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your levy notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the action with the Office of Appeals.

Letter 3172 – Notice of Federal Tax Lien Filing and Your Rights to a Hearing under IRC 6320

This letter is to notify you the IRS filed a notice of tax lien for the unpaid taxes. If you do not agree you can request appeals consideration within 30 days from the date of the letter. The letter and publications explain how to request a hearing from Appeals. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your lien notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the action with the Office of Appeals.

Notices

CP 90 – Final Notice of Intent to Levy

CP 90 notifies you of your unpaid taxes and that the IRS intends to levy to collect the amount owed. This notice and referenced publications explain how to request an appeal if you do not agree. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your levy notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the action with the Office of Appeals.

CP 92 – Notice of Levy upon Your State Tax Refund

CP 92 notifies you that the IRS levied your state tax refund to pay your unpaid federal taxes. This notice and referenced publications explain how to request an appeal if you do not agree. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your levy notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the action with the Office of Appeals.

CP 242 – Notice of Levy upon Your State Tax Refund

CP 242 notifies you that the IRS levied your state tax refund to pay your unpaid federal tax. This notice and referenced publications explain how to request an appeal if you do not agree. You need to file a Form 12153, Request for A Collection Due Process Hearing and send it to the address shown on your levy notice within 30 days from the date of the letter in order to appeal the action with the Office of Appeals.

CP 523 – IMF Installment Agreement Default Notice

CP 523 notifies you that the IRS intends to terminate your installment agreement in 30 days. You have the right to request an appeal if you do not agree by following the instructions in the notice.

CP 2000

You receive this letter when the IRS receives income, deduction or credit information that does not match your return. You are provided a computation of the proposed adjustments to your tax return based upon this information. If you agree, you sign and return the agreement forms. If you do not agree, you can submit a request for appeal/protest to the office/individual that sent you the letter. The letter explains how to file a protest. You need to file your protest within 30 days from the date of this letter in order to appeal the proposed adjustments with the Office of Appeals.

April 19, 2011

The United States Tax Court

When the Commissioner of Internal Revenue has determined a tax deficiency, you may dispute the deficiency in the Tax Court before paying any disputed amount. The Tax Court’s jurisdiction includes the authority to redetermine transferee liability, make certain types of declaratory judgments, adjust partnership items, order abatement of interest, award administrative and litigation costs, redetermine worker classification, determine relief from joint and several liability on a joint return, review certain collection actions, and review awards to whistleblowers who provide information to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.

The United State Tax Court has taxpayer information that covers a variety of topics such as:

Introduction to the Tax Court

About the Court

Starting a Case

Before Trial

During Trial

After Trial

For help from a qualified tax attorney, call Mitchell A. Port at 310.559.5259.

April 5, 2011

IRS Wants To Collect Gift Taxes When California Real Estate Is Transferred To Family

In a lawsuit recently filed by the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service wants to order California’s Board of Equalization (a state tax agency) to provide its computer database of everyone who transferred real estate to relatives for little or no consideration from 2005 to 2010. The BOE oversees property tax issues.

If granted, the lawsuit could expose many Californians to IRS audits as well as federal penalties or even significant back taxes. This is especially threatening to those who didn’t file federal gift tax returns.

California’s Proposition 13 limits annual property assessment increases to 2% or less unless the property is sold. Two other initiatives permit property transferred to children and, in certain situations, grandchildren, to retain the 2% cap. To claim the exclusion from reassessment and save a lot of money every year by the new owner/family member, paperwork has to be filed with the county where the property is located. Data from that paperwork is sent to the BOE where it is entered into a database.

The IRS identified that database and has asked for access to it.

Discuss your California real estate transfers with a tax attorney. Call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259 for tax help.