IRS Warns of Continued Scams, Varied Tactics as the Tax Deadline Nears
IR-2016-62, April 13, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued a warning that scammers may try using the April 18 tax deadline to prey on hard-working taxpayers by impersonating the IRS and others with fake phone calls and emails. Even after the tax deadline passes, taxpayers should know the telltale signs of a scam and tips to protect themselves from a variety of phone scams and phishing emails.
"We’ve seen continuing activity in these scams throughout the filing season," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "As the tax deadline nears, these criminals may try and trick honest taxpayers over the phone or via email, and people should remain vigilant. After the tax deadline, watch out for these scammers promising a refund or threatening you with an unexpected tax bill."
These scam artists frequently masquerade as being from the IRS, a tax company and sometimes even a state revenue department. By email, they try enticing people to click on links in official-looking messages containing questions related to their "tax refund." Report these emails to email@example.com. By phone, many scammers use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a "tax bill." They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of their victim if they don’t get the money.
Variations of these scams can be seen nationwide, and it’s more important than ever to be cautious with providing personal or financial information. As part of the effort to protect taxpayers, the IRS has teamed up with state revenue departments and the tax industry to make sure taxpayers understand the dangers to their personal and financial data as part of the “Taxes. Security. Together” campaign.
Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:
Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals (see news release IR-2016-34)
“Verifying” tax return information over the phone (IR-2016-40)
Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry (IR-2016-28)
There are some important reminders for taxpayers nationwide about these schemes.
Watch Out for Threatening Phone Calls
Beware of scammers making unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email.
Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.
The IRS Will Never:
Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
Threaten to immediately 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.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:
Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
Avoid Email Phishing Attempts
There has been a surge in email scams this year that appear to be from a tax agency or a tax software company.
Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. One common trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. For small business, these schemes may try impersonating a company leader and request payroll and human resource information for employees in your company. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website.
And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you see an email that says "You won a free cruise" or "The IRS has a refund waiting for you," odds are high that it is a phishing attempt looking to get your personal information.
If you get a phishing email, remember this important advice:
Don’t reply to the message.
Don’t give out your personal or financial information.
Forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Then delete it.
Don’t open any attachments or click on any links. They may have malicious code that will infect your computer.
More information on how to report phishing or phone scams is available on IRS.gov.
Fact sheet FS-2016-1, IRS, States and Tax Industry Combat Identity Theft and Refund Fraud on Many Fronts
FS-2016-2, IRS, States and Tax Industry Urge Taxpayers to Join the Effort to Combat Identity Theft
FS-2016-3, IRS Identity Theft Victim Assistance: How It Works
FS-2016-4, How New Identity Security Changes May Affect Taxpayers for 2016
Year-End Tax Tips for Businesses
The National Society of Accountants is offering some year-end tax tips for businesses.
Consider several general strategies, such as use of traditional timing techniques for income and deductions and the role of the tax extenders, as well as strategies targeted to your particular business. As in past years, planning is uncertain because of the Affordable Care Act and the expiration of many popular but temporary tax breaks.
Recent legislation changed filing deadlines for some entity tax returns for 2016: Partnership tax returns will be due on March 15, not April 15 (for calendar year partnerships), and c-corporation returns will be due on April 15, not March 15 (for calendar year C Corporations). Returns for s-corporation will continue to be due on March 15.
Expensing and Bonus Depreciation
Many businesses use enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing as a key component of year-end tax planning. Sec. 179 property is generally defined as new or used depreciable tangible property purchased for use in a trade or business. Software was also recently included, as was qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified retail improvement property.
(Congress has not renewed the enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing for 2015, but they likely will be renewed. Year-end planning should reflect both the likely extension and the possibility of no extension.)
Similarly, bonus depreciation has been a valuable incentive for many businesses. Fifty percent bonus depreciation generally expired after 2014 (with limited exceptions for certain types of property).
Qualified property for bonus depreciation must be depreciable under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) and have a recovery period of 20 years or less for a wide variety of assets.
Year-end placed-in-service strategies can provide an almost immediate cash discount for qualifying purchases.
Although you should factor a bonus-depreciation election into year-end strategy, you don’t have to make a final decision on the matter until you file a tax return. Also, bonus depreciation isn’t mandatory: you might want to elect out of bonus depreciation to spread depreciation deductions more evenly across future years.
Another potentially useful strategy involves maximizing benefits under Sec. 179 by expensing property that doesn’t qualify for bonus depreciation, such as used property, and property with a long MACRS depreciation period.
Section 199 Deduction
Year-end planning benefits from the release of guidance on the Code Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction is an often under-utilized potential break. The guidance provides many examples of what business activities qualify; recent Internal Revenue Service guidance highlights manufacturing, construction, oil-related work, film production, agriculture, and many other pursuits.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit
If your business is considering expanding payrolls before 2015 ends, take a look at the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). (Although the WOTC, under current law, expired after 2014, Congress is expected to renew the WOTC for 2015 and possibly for 2016).
Generally, the WOTC rewards employers that hire individuals from certain groups, including veterans, families receiving certain government benefits, and individuals who receive supplemental Social Security Income or long-term family assistance. The credit is generally equal to 40 percent of the qualified worker's first-year wages up to $6,000 ($3,000 for summer youths and $12,000, $14,000, or $24,000 for certain qualified veterans). For long-term family-aid recipients, the credit is equal to 40 percent of the first $10,000 in qualified first-year wages and half of the first $10,000 of qualified second-year wages.
Currently, a de Minimis safe harbor under the so-called “repair reg.” allows you to deduct certain items costing $5,000 or less that are deductible in accordance with your company’s accounting policy reflected on your applicable financial statement (AFS). IRS regulations also provide a $2,500 de Minimis safe harbor threshold if you don’t have an AFS.
Routine Service Contracts
If you’re an accrual-basis taxpayer (meaning you have a right to receive income as soon as you earn it), you have a new tool for planning. The IRS has provided a safe harbor under which accrual-basis taxpayers may treat economic performance as occurring on a ratable basis for ratable service contracts—perhaps particularly useful in connection with your regular services that extend into 2016. If your business meets the safe harbor for ratable service contracts, you may be able take a full deduction in the current tax year for certain 2015 payments even though you may not perform the services until next year.
Affordable Care Act
For large businesses, the ACA imposes many new requirements, including the employer shared responsibility provision (also known as the employer mandate). Small businesses, although generally exempt from this mandate, need to review how they deliver employee health insurance.
Many small businesses have provided a health benefit to employees through a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). Following passage of the ACA, the IRS described certain types of HRAs as employer payment plans – therefore subject to the ACA’s market reforms, including the prohibition on annual limits for essential health benefits and the requirement to provide certain preventive care without cost sharing. Failure to comply with these reforms triggers excise taxes under Code Sec. 4980D.
Pending legislation in Congress would allow small employers (that is, those with fewer than 50 full-time and full-time equivalent employees) to have stand-alone HRAs and reimburse expenses without violating the ACA’s market reforms.
Small employers also should review the Code Sec. 45R credit. If your business has no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees, you may qualify for a special tax credit to help offset your costs of employee health insurance. You must pay average annual wages of no more than $50,000 per employee (indexed for inflation) and maintain a qualifying health care insurance arrangement. (Generally, health insurance for employees must be obtained through the Small Business Health Options Program, part of the Health Insurance Marketplace.)