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2016’s Dirty Dozen Tax Scams

Every year, the IRS releases a list of what it calls the worst tax scams of the year. Beginning Feb. 1 and ending on Feb. 17, the IRS issued a news release each day highlighting a scam. These "dirty dozen" scams can be encountered at any time of year, but the IRS reports that they peak during tax season.

1. Identity theft

According to the IRS, the No. 1 scam this year is tax-related identity theft, which the IRS defines as when someone uses a taxpayer's stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund (IR-2016-12). Although the IRS has introduced more effective screening and detection systems that are designed to detect identity theft before it issues a refund, the Service admitted that it is still a major problem. To fight the problem more effectively, over the past year, the IRS has participated in a Security Summit initiative in partnership with states and the tax-preparation industry to try to improve security for taxpayers. The participants share information of fraudulent schemes that have been detected this filing season to provide increased protection. More than 20 data elements are used, unknown to taxpayers, to verify tax return information.

In addition, the IRS urged taxpayers to protect their own information so it is harder for thieves to breach the IRS's security systems. These efforts at taxpayer education include the Taxes. Security. Together. campaign to help taxpayers avoid the data breaches that make it easier for them to become victims.

2. Phone scams

The second scam this year is phone scams, in which criminals call, impersonating the IRS (IR-2016-14). Many times, they disguise the number they are calling from so it appears to be the IRS or another agency calling, and they may threaten arrest, deportation, or license revocation. The scammers sometimes use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate and use the victim's name, address, and other personal information, which makes the call sound official.

To protect themselves, the IRS says, taxpayers should be aware the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill, call to demand payment without the opportunity to question or appeal, require use of a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest a taxpayer for not paying.

3. Phishing

Another scam that continues to appear high on the list is "phishing," in which taxpayers get unsolicited emails seeking financial or personal information. A taxpayer who receives a suspicious email should send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . "The IRS won't send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (IR-2016-15). Scam emails can also infect a computer with malware without the taxpayer's knowing it, often enabling the criminals to access sensitive files or track keyboard strokes, exposing login information.

4. Return preparer fraud

Return preparer fraud involves "dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers" (IR-2016-16). The IRS warned taxpayers to be wary of "unscrupulous preparers who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers with outlandish promises of overly large refunds," which is why the IRS says this scam makes it onto the list every year.

"Choose your tax return preparer carefully because you entrust them with your private financial information that needs to be protected," Koskinen said. The IRS provides a number of tips for taxpayers to choose competent preparers, including checking what the preparer's credentials are, making sure the preparer will be available after filing season, and ensuring that the taxpayer's refund is deposited into the taxpayer's account, not the preparer's. The IRS recommends avoiding preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or promise larger refunds than other preparers.

5. Hiding money or income offshore

Hiding money or income offshore, which is a major focus of IRS enforcement efforts, is the next tax scam the IRS addressed (IR-2016-17). "Our continued enforcement actions should discourage anyone from trying to illegally hide money and income offshore," Koskinen said. As the IRS explained, there are legitimate reasons that taxpayers have foreign accounts, but these accounts trigger reporting requirements. The IRS offers a number of programs, including the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, for taxpayers to come into compliance with these requirements. The IRS noted that the heightened reporting required under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which went into effect in 2015, makes it even harder for taxpayers to conceal assets overseas.

6. Inflated refund claims

Another scam that is closely related to return preparer fraud is inflated refund claims, in which unscrupulous preparers set up shop to lure unsuspecting taxpayers (IR-2016-18). "Be wary of tax preparers that tout outlandish refunds based on federal benefits or tax credits you've never heard of or weren't eligible to claim in the past," Koskinen said.

Inflated refund claims often involve claims for tax credits that taxpayers are not entitled to, such as education credits, the earned income tax credit (EITC), or the American opportunity tax credit. The IRS reminds taxpayers that they are responsible for what is on their return, even if someone else prepares it, and they can be assessed penalties and interest as well as additional tax.

7. Fake charities

Next on the list is fake charities. Taxpayers are cautioned to check the Exempt Organizations Select Check on the IRS's website to determine whether a charity is bona fide and qualifies for deductible contributions (IR-2016-20). Legitimate charities should be willing to give donors their employer identification numbers, which can then be used to check whether the charities are qualified on the IRS website. Fake charities often use names similar to well-known organizations and may set up fake websites. They also can be used for identity theft purposes. When large-scale natural disasters occur, these fraudulent organizations tend to increase, the IRS reports, and it warns that taxpayers should not make any contributions without checking first.

8. Falsely padding deductions

No. 8 on the list is falsely padding deductions (IR-2016-21), which consists of deceitfully inflating deductions or expenses on the return to pay less tax or receive a bigger refund. This item is new to the dirty dozen list this year. The IRS warns taxpayers that they should "think twice" before overstating their charitable contribution expenses or padding their business expenses, as well as avoid claiming credits they are not entitled to, such as the EITC and the child tax credit. Taxpayers who do this may be subject to substantial penalties and may, in some cases, face criminal prosecution.

9. Excessive claims for business credits

The next item on the list, excessive claims for business credits, expands on last year's "excessive claims for fuel credits" (IR-2016-22). This scam involves two specific false claims for credits: fraudulent claims for refunds of fuel excise tax and bogus claims for the research tax credit. The IRS says that its refund fraud filters are stopping a number of fraudulent fuel excise tax refunds this year.

10. Falsifying income to claim tax credits

Tenth on the list is falsifying income to claim tax credits (IR-2016-23). This usually involves falsely claiming higher earned income to qualify for the EITC, which is a refundable credit. Unscrupulous preparers often do this to get taxpayers larger refunds than they are entitled to. Even when taxpayers are unaware of these false claims, they are, as the IRS reminds again, responsible for what is on their tax return. They can be subject to significant penalties, interest, and possibly prosecution.

11. Abusive tax shelters

No. 11 is participating in abusive tax shelters (IR-2016-25). Abusive tax shelters are defined as schemes using multiple flowthrough entities to evade taxes. They often use limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, international business companies, foreign financial accounts, offshore credit or debit cards, and multilayer transactions to conceal who owns the income or assets.

The IRS also mentions the misuse of trusts and captive insurance companies among the types of transactions taxpayers should avoid. As in some of the other scams, the IRS warns that participating in these transactions can result in significant penalties and interest and "possible criminal prosecution." According to Koskinen, "These schemes can end up costing taxpayers more in back taxes, penalties, and interest than they saved in the first place."

12. Frivolous tax arguments

The final "scam" is frivolous tax arguments, which the IRS warns taxpayers not to be talked into (IR-2016-27). Announcing the release today of the 2016 version of its webpage, "The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments," the IRS explained how the courts and the IRS have treated these arguments, which involve claims such as that the only employees subject to income tax are employees of the federal government or that only foreign income is taxable. "Taxpayers should avoid unscrupulous promoters of false tax-avoidance arguments because taxpayers end up paying what they owe plus potential penalties and interest mandated by law," Koskinen said. The IRS reminded taxpayers that they would automatically be subject to the $5,000 penalty for frivolous tax positions.

—Sally P. Schreiber ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is a Journal of Accountancy senior editor. February 17, 2016.

Five Ways to Make Your Retirement Cash Last

Running out of money has got to be one of the worst fears of retirees. And with people living into their 10th and 11th decades, it’s going to get worse.

Now more than ever, you need to plan ahead to ensure that you won’t outlive your funds. That means saving as much as you can and not making mistakes that could scramble your nest egg.

Jane Bryant Quinn, who is a legend in my business, just published a book entitled How to Make Your Money Last. In keeping with her great writing on retirement over the past several decades, it goes right to the point on what you need to do.

Here are five simple steps you can take to avoid retirement problems, according to Quinn:

1) Ignoring Your Life Expectancy and Retiring Early.

Years ago, I wrote a book entitled Retire Early and I look back on it like it was a relic from another century (it was during the 1990s). Today, unless you’ve saved warehouses of money and live a spartan lifestyle, neither I nor Quinn recommend retiring early.

On the front end of retirement, health care is incredibly expensive before you qualify for Medicare at 65. If your employer doesn’t cover you up until that point — most don’t today — you’ll have to buy a private policy and either carry a huge deductible or pay a monster premium.

Besides, the earlier you retire, the more you’ll eat up your nest egg. If you can work later, Quinn has found, you can sock more away in your retirement plan and make your money last longer. You’ll be in retirement a long time.

2) Tapping Your Benefits Too Soon.

Sure, it’s really tempting to take Social Security starting at 62. If you’re in poor health — and can’t work anymore — it’s not such a bad idea. Yet what if your health is fairly solid?

Taking Social Security at 62 cuts your benefit by 25% compared to the normal retirement age for most people, which is 66. Even worse, when you take payments at 62, you lock in those lowered benefits for life. Why take a haircut if you don’t have to?

3) Avoiding Stocks.

Shares in companies are not going to be guaranteed to do anything. Not even dividends are guaranteed. But if you don’t own a basket of global stocks through mutual funds, it will be nearly impossible to beat inflation, which should be your main goal in a retirement portfolio.

Sure, stocks will definitely be volatile in coming years. But hold onto them for the long term. If they make you nervous, balance them with bonds, real estate and cash.

4) Retiring with Debt.

While it’s desirable to not have a mortgage in retirement, it’s not the worse kind of debt you can have. It’s partially tax deductible for now and you can write off a portion of property taxes.

But credit card and installment debt are different beasts. You can’t deduct this borrowing and monthly payments prevent you from saving and having access to funds for things you want to do.

5) Failing to Protect Your Spouse.

Unless your spouse has their own retirement kitty, make sure you protect them with your pension or annuities. You can also name them as beneficiaries for any retirement account.

Author: John Wasik, Contributor
Source: Forbes.com, February 10, 2016

Tax Identity Theft Victims Can Now Get Copies of the Fraudulent Returns

PPC

Five-Minute Tax Briefing®
November 24, 2015
No. 2015-22

Tax Identity Theft Victims Can Now Get Copies of the Fraudulent Returns:  The IRS has begun allowing victims of identity theft to request a redacted copy of a fraudulent return that was filed and accepted by the IRS using the identity theft victim's name and SSN. [  Editor's Note:  This change is attributable to a request made in a letter dated 5/17/15 from U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte to IRS Commissioner Koskinen stating that it was "deeply troubling that the IRS does not help victims by providing them with copies of the fraudulent returns so they can determine what information was stolen."] Due to federal privacy laws, the IRS will disclose the return information only to victims whose name and SSN are listed as either the primary or secondary taxpayer on the fraudulent return and not to any person listed only as a dependent. Instructions for requesting copy of fraudulent returns can be found at https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Instructions-for-Requesting-Copy-of-Fraudulent-Returns.

IRS reminds taxpayers of major 2015 tax changes

Fact Sheet 2016-8, February

IRS has issued a Fact Sheet highlighting major tax changes for 2015, including the renewal of key taxpayer-favorable benefits, a new way to save for retirement through MyRA accounts, ABLE accounts for people with disabilities, and updates on health care provisions.

Changes for 2015. The Fact Sheet covers a gamut of 2015 changes, some the result of recently enacted (or previously enacted) tax legislation, some based on IRS administrative rulings, and others based on inflation adjustments or how the days in the calendar fall.

Most taxpayers will have until Monday, April 18, to file their 2015 returns and pay any taxes due because of the affect of Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia. However, residents in Maine and Massachusetts will have until Tuesday, April 19, to file because of the Patriots' Day holiday.

The standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck are: 57.5¢ per mile for business miles driven in 2015 (up from 56¢ in 2014), 23¢ per mile driven for medical or moving purposes (down from 23.5¢ in 2014); and 14¢ per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

Taxpayers, along with any of their qualifying children, must have a taxpayer identification number (TIN) — generally a Social Security number (SSN) — to claim the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Further, to get these benefits on a 2015 return, the taxpayer must receive the number before the due date for filing a 2015 return (either April 18 or April 19, or for those who get an extension, Oct. 17).

Beginning in 2015, an IRA owner can make only one rollover from an IRA to another (or the same) IRA in any 12-month period, regardless of the number of IRAs he owns. The limit applies by aggregating all of an individual's IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs as well as traditional and Roth IRAs, effectively treating them as one IRA for purposes of the limit. But the IRA owner can continue to make unlimited trustee-to-trustee transfers between IRAs. Before 2015, the one-per-year limit applied on an IRA-by-IRA basis, that is, only to rollovers involving the same IRAs. There is a 2015 transition rule that ignores some 2014 distributions. An IRA distribution rolled over to another (or the same) IRA in 2014 does not prevent a 2015 distribution (within the one-year period) from being rolled over, provided the 2015 distribution is from an IRA that is different from any IRA involved in the 2014 rollover.

PATH Act extends key benefits. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, enacted in December 2015, extended or made permanent a number of tax benefits that had expired at the end of 2014 (i.e., so-called extender provisions), including:

  • The deduction for state and local sales taxes claimed by taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and choose to deduct sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes;
  • The nonbusiness energy property credit claimed on Form 5695 by homeowners who install energy-efficient windows, doors, furnaces, insulation and other qualifying home improvements;
  • The educator expense deduction claimed on Form 1040 Line 23 or Form 1040A Line 16 by teachers and other eligible elementary and secondary educators who pay for various classroom expenses;
  • The tuition and fees deduction claimed on Form 8917 by eligible parents and college students; and
  • Qualified charitable distributions, reported on Form 1040 Lines 15a and 15b, by IRA owners age 70-1/2 or older, who transfer tax-free up to $100,000 to qualified charities during 2015.

ABLE accounts. States can now offer specially designed, tax-favored ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts to people with disabilities who became disabled before age 26. These accounts were authorized by the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act), which was part of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (TIPA, PL 113-295, 12/19/2014). Recognizing the special financial burdens faced by families raising children with disabilities, ABLE accounts are designed to enable people with disabilities and their families to save and pay for disability-related expenses. Contributions totaling up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount ($14,000 in 2015) can generally be made to an ABLE account each year. Though contributions are not deductible, distributions are tax-free if used to pay qualified disability expenses.

New retirement account available. Eligible taxpayers can now take advantage of a new starter retirement account available free from the Treasury Department through the MyRA program. Taxpayers can choose to fund a retirement account through payroll deductions, electronic transfers from a savings or checking account, or by choosing direct deposit for their federal income tax refund.

Health care provisions. Many taxpayers will receive new year-end forms (including Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C) providing them with information about health coverage they had or were offered. While the information on these forms may assist in preparing a return, they are not required. Like last year, taxpayers can prepare and file their returns using other information about their health insurance.

The individual shared responsibility payment has increased from last year and will apply to taxpayers who did not have qualifying coverage or an exemption for each month during 2015. To determine whether an exemption is available or the payment applies, check out the special interactive tool available on IRS.gov. Like last year, most taxpayers will simply need to check a box on their tax return to indicate they had health coverage for all of 2015.

IRS reminds taxpayers of major 2015 tax changes

Social Security changes will hit couples, divorced women hard

Editor's note: On Monday, President Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Among its provisions are changes that shut down two popular Social Security claiming tactics: the-file-and-suspend and the restricted-application strategies. This column explains the changes to the Social Security laws and provides questions from readers and answers from experts.

If you're married...

The impact on planning for couples is nuanced, according to Joe Elsasser, founder of Social Security Timing. There are now three sets of rules:

1. For people born on or before May 1, 1950

People born on or before May 1, 1950 (those who turn 66 for Social Security purposes in April 2016) have access to voluntary suspension that allows auxiliary beneficiaries (the spouse of a retired worker and the children of a retired worker) to claim as long as the request for voluntary suspension occurs on or before April 30, 2016, and can file a restricted application at any time between ages 66 and 70.

Restricted application: With a restricted application, an individual who was eligible for both a spousal benefit based on the work record of a spouse and a retirement benefit based on his or her own work could choose to take only a spousal benefit at full retirement age. This allowed his or her own benefits to accumulate 8%-a-year delayed retirement credits, and then they could switch to their own larger benefits at any point in the future up to and including age 70. The new law phases out this option.

Voluntary suspension: Under the existing (old) law, the higher wage earner in a couple could file for Social Security benefits and then immediately request those benefits be suspended. The checks to the higher wage earner would stop, which allowed for their benefits to grow 8% a year. While the benefit was suspended, the lower wage earner spouse could collect a spousal benefit. Under the new law, only people who suspended their benefits in the past or within the first 180 days after enactment of the new bill will be covered under the old rules, and they will continue to fall under the old rules until they reach age 70 or un-suspend their benefits.

2. For people born on or after May 2, 1950, but before Jan. 2, 1954

People born on or after May 2, 1950 but before Jan. 2, 1954 can still do a restricted application under the new law. However, voluntary suspension will also suspend the benefits of other auxiliary beneficiaries, including spouses and children, and under this change to the law, the spouse benefiting cannot receive spousal excess while a voluntary suspension is in effect. (The spousal excess is the difference between one half of the higher wage earner’s full retirement benefit and the lower wage earner’s spouse’s full retirement benefit.)

3. For people born on or after Jan. 2, 1954

For these people: Under the new law, voluntary suspension suspends the benefits of the spouse and children, and the lower wage earner cannot receive spousal excess. There is also no option for a restricted application.

Questions and answers

Question: At 66 years of age, my full retirement age (FRA), I filed for Social security benefits and immediately suspended. My wife, also 66 (her FRA), filed for spousal benefits only on my account. We initiated this in August, 2014 and have received spousal benefits each month since September, 2014. Now, I am at a complete loss on what to do next because of the new law. We are both working full time and our intent is to maximize our Social Security benefits and start taking it at 70. How do we do this under the new law? —Howard

Answer: You will squeak under the wire for the effective dates of the new Social Security rules, according to Andy Landis, founder of Thinking Retirement, author of Social Security, The Inside Story and a MarketWatch RetireMentor.

The file-and-suspend changes will affect only new requests to suspend, starting six months from bill being signed into law, so there’s no problem with your already-requested suspension, Landis said. And the changes to spousal benefits affect only people born Jan. 2, 1954 and later, so your wife’s benefits also will not change.

Source: MarketWatch.com. Published: Nov 7, 2015

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