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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. 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
The National Society of Accountants has released some suggested year-end tax tips for individuals.
Individual income tax rates of 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35 and 39.6 percent remain in place for filing next April. (The more you made, the greater your percentage.) The standard deduction for 2016 income will stay the same: $6,300 if you file your taxes using the status single or married filing separately. Married joint filers still receive a $12,600 deduction; head of household filers’ deduction jumps $50, to $9,300.
Year-end tax-saving tactics include spreading recognition of your income between years by postponing year-end bonuses and maximizing both deductible retirement contributions and allowable retirement distributions for this calendar year, coordinating capital losses against the sale of appreciated assets, postponing redemption of U.S. Savings Bonds, and delaying your year-end billings and collections.
You may also want to defer corporate liquidation distributions (full cash-value payment for all a company’s stock you hold) until 2016, pay your last state estimated tax installment in 2015 and pre-pay real estate taxes or mortgage interest.
Life changes: Did you get married or divorced? Have a child? Buy a home? Change jobs or retire? A change in employment, for example, may bring severance pay, sign-on bonuses, stock options, moving expenses and COBRA health benefits, among other changes that affect your taxes.
Additionally, try to predict any life events in 2016 that might trigger significant income or losses, as well as a change in your filing status.
Retirement savings: You can contribute up to $5,500 to an individual retirement account or Roth IRA for 2015 and, if you’re 50 or older, $1,000 more in catch-up contributions. You also have until April 15, 2015, to make an IRA contribution for 2015. One tax move in this area: Delay until 2016 converting your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, which incurs taxes.
Giving: You can still make tax-free gifts of $14,000 per recipient (a total of $28,000 in the case of married couples).
Tax-free distributions, up to a maximum of $100,000 per taxpayer each year from IRAs to public charities, have been allowed as an alternative to reporting the income and taking an itemized deduction. You must be 70½ or older to do this.
If your income is six figures or more, you should anticipate possible liability for the 3.8 percent net investment income (NII) tax calculated on net investment income in excess of your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). Threshold MAGIs for the NII tax are $250,000 in the case of joint returns or a surviving spouse, $125,000 for a married taxpayer filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case.
Keeping income below the thresholds is worth exploring, as is spreading income out over a number of years or offsetting the income with both above-the-line and itemized deductions. Of course, planning for the NII tax requires a very personalized strategy.
The tax rate on net capital gain is no higher than 15 percent for most taxpayers. Net capital gain may not be taxed if you’re in the 10 or 15 percent income tax brackets. A 20 percent rate on net capital gain can apply if your taxable income exceeds the thresholds set for the 39.6 percent rate ($413,200 if you file single, $464,850 for married filing jointly or as a qualifying widow[er], $439,000 for head of household and $232,425 for married filing separately).
Wash sale rules: These cover sales of stock or securities in which your losses are realized but not recognized for tax purposes because you acquire substantially identical stock or securities within 30 days before or after the sale.
Alternative minimum tax: The AMT is now “patched,” which permanently increases the exemption amounts and indexes those amounts for inflation. For 2015, the exemption amounts are $53,600 for single individuals and heads of household, $83,400 for married couples filing a joint return and surviving spouses and $41,700 for married couples filing separate returns.
You can take several steps to reduce the AMT’s effect on your tax liability. Avoid certain deductions, including the accelerated depreciation deduction on real property or expensed research, among others. You might also avoid exercising incentive stock options in a year in which you’re subject to AMT.
Pease limitation: This reduces a higher-income taxpayer's allowable itemized deductions by 3 percent of the amount (up to 80 percent), with the reduction kicking in after certain income thresholds. For 2015, Pease thresholds are $309,900 for married couples and surviving spouses, $284,050 for heads of households, $258,250 for unmarried taxpayers and $154,950 for married taxpayers filing separately.
Related to the Pease limitation is the personal exemption phase-out (PEP). The threshold income amounts for the PEP are the same as those for the Pease limitation.
The Affordable Care Act requires that you have minimum essential health coverage or make a shared responsibility payment, unless you’re exempt. On 2014 returns filed in 2015, taxpayers reported if they had minimum essential coverage; that reporting requirement will again be on 2015 returns filed in 2016.
If you may be liable for a shared responsibility payment, carefully review the significant number and variety of exemptions available. You may also be able to project the amount of any payment. Closely related are changes to the medical expense deduction, health flexible spending arrangements (and similar arrangements), insurance coverage for children, and more.
As of mid-November, tax bills pending in Congress included a package of tax extenders, revisions to the Affordable Care Act and more. Lawmakers might renew them either before year-end or early in 2016. Incentives include:
Exclusion of cancellation of indebtedness on principal residence: Allows you to exclude from income the cancellation of mortgage debt of up $2 million on a qualified principal residence.
Higher education tuition and fees deduction: Provides a maximum $4,000 deduction for qualified tuition and fees at post-secondary institutions of learning, subject to income phase-outs.
Classroom expense deduction. Primary and secondary education professionals may take an above-the-line deduction for qualified unreimbursed expenses up to $250 paid during the year.
Stay tuned to see which of these and other extenders continue or end. In the meanwhile, planning for their potential renewal is key.