Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Identity Theft Crackdown Sweeps Across the Nation; More than 200 Actions Taken in Past Week in 23 States

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department today announced the results of a massive national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.

Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states. The coast-to-coast effort took place over the last week and included indictments, arrests and the execution of search warrants involving the potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds. In all, 939 criminal charges are included in the 69 indictments and informations related to identity theft.

In addition, IRS auditors and investigators conducted extensive compliance visits to money service businesses in nine locations across the country in the past week. The approximately 150 visits occurred to help ensure these check-cashing facilities aren’t facilitating refund fraud and identity theft.

“This unprecedented effort against identity theft sends a strong, unmistakable message to anyone considering participating in a refund fraud scheme this tax season,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are aggressively pursuing cases across the nation with the Justice Department, and people will be going to jail. This is part of a much wider effort underway at the IRS to help protect taxpayers.”

“The Justice Department is working closely with the IRS to investigate, prosecute, and punish tax refund crimes committed through the theft of identities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John A. DiCicco of the Tax Division. “Now, more than ever, we must remain vigilant against the unauthorized use of identification information to defraud the U.S. government.”

The national effort is part of a comprehensive identity theft strategy the IRS has embarked on that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible. In addition to the law-enforcement crackdown, the IRS has stepped up its internal reviews to spot false tax returns before tax refunds are issued as well as working to help victims of the identity theft refund schemes.

The law-enforcement sweep started last week across the country, reflecting investigative efforts stretching back months and even years.

The nationwide effort by the Justice Department and the IRS led to actions taking place in 23 locations across the country with 105 individuals. The actions included 80 complaints/indictments and informations, 58 arrests, 19 search warrants, 10 guilty pleas and four sentencings. A map of the locations and additional details on the actions are available on IRS.gov, the IRS Civil and Criminal Actions page and the Department of Justice Tax Division page.

Beyond the criminal actions, the IRS enforcement personnel conducted a special sweep last week and on Monday to visit 150 money services businesses to help make sure these businesses are not knowingly or unknowingly facilitating identity theft or refund fraud. The visits occurred in nine high-risk places identified by the IRS covering areas in and surrounding Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington, D.C.

In addition, the IRS has more than 250 check-cashing operations under audit across the country and will be looking for indicators of identity theft as part of the exam effort.

The information from these audits and compliance visits will be used to assist continuing IRS investigations into refund fraud and identity theft.

The IRS also is taking a number of additional steps this tax season to prevent identity theft and detect refund fraud before it occurs. These efforts includes designing new identity theft screening filters that will improve the IRS’s ability to spot false returns before they are processed and before a refund is issued, as well as expanded efforts to place identity theft indicators on taxpayer accounts to track and manage identity theft incidents.

To help taxpayers, the IRS earlier this month created a new, special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft matters, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. The information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit and tips to protect against “phishing” schemes that can lead to identity theft.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s personal information without their permission to commit fraud or other crimes using the victim’s name, Social Security number or other identifying information. When it comes to federal taxes, taxpayers may not be aware they have become victims of identity theft until they receive a letter from the IRS stating more than one tax return was filed with their information or that IRS records show wages from an employer the taxpayer has not worked for in the past.

If a taxpayer receives a notice from the IRS indicating identity theft, they should follow the instructions in that notice. A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. The taxpayer should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The taxpayer will be asked to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039, and follow the instructions on the back of the form based on their situation.

Taxpayers looking for additional information can consult the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft or the IRS Identity Theft Protection page on the IRS website.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

IRS Provides 2012 Cents-Per-Mile, Fleet Valuations

The IRS has released the maximum allowable value of certain employer-provided automobiles, including trucks and vans, that are first made available to employees for personal use during calendar year 2012. The maximum value of vehicles for which the cents-per-mile valuation rule of Reg. §1.61-21(e) may apply is $15,900 for a passenger automobile and $16,700 for a truck or van. The maximum value for vehicles for which the fleet-average valuation rule of Reg. §1.61-21(d) may apply is $21,100 for a passenger automobile and $21,900 for a truck or van. (Rev. Proc. 2012-13, I.R.B. 2012-3, January 17, 2012.)

IRS Releases 2012 Pub 15

The IRS has released the 2012 Pub 15 (Circular E), Employer's Tax Guide.

Future developments. The IRS has created a page on IRS.gov for information about Publication 15 (Circular E) at www.irs.gov/pub15. Information about any future developments affecting Publication 15 (Circular E) (such as legislation enacted after it is released) will be posted on that page.

Social security and Medicare tax for 2012. The employee tax rate for social security is 4.2% on wages paid and tips received before March 1, 2012. The employee tax rate for social security increases to 6.2% on wages paid and tips received after February 29, 2012. The employer tax rate for social security remains unchanged at 6.2%. The social security wage base limit is $110,100. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% each for the employee and employer, unchanged from 2011. There is no wage base limit for Medicare tax. Employers should implement the 4.2% employee social security tax rate as soon as possible, but not later than January 10.

January 31, 2012. After implementing the 4.2% rate, employers should make an offsetting adjustment in a subsequent pay period to correct any overwithholding of social security tax as soon as possible, but not later than March 31, 2012. Social security and Medicare taxes apply to the wages of household workers you pay $1,800 or more in cash or an equivalent form of compensation. Medicare taxes apply to election workers who are paid $1,500 or more in cash or an equivalent form of compensation.

At the time this publication was prepared for release, the rate for the employee's share of social security tax was 4.2% and scheduled to increase to 6.2% for wages paid after February 29, 2012. However, Congress is discussing an extension of the 4.2% employee tax rate for social security beyond February 29, 2012.

VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. On November 21, 2011, the President signed into law the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. This new law provides an expanded work opportunity tax credit to businesses that hire eligible unemployed veterans and, for the first time, also makes part of the credit available to tax-exempt organizations. Businesses claim the credit as part of the general business credit and tax-exempt organizations claim it against their payroll tax liability. The credit is available for eligible unemployed veterans who begin work on or after November 22, 2011, and before January 1, 2013. More information about the credit against a tax-exempt organization's payroll tax liability will be available early in 2012 at www.irs.gov/form5884c.

FUTA tax rate. The FUTA tax rate is 6.0% for 2012.

Expiration of Attributed Tip Income Program (ATIP). The Attributed Tip Income Program (ATIP) expired on December 31, 2011.

Change of address. Beginning in 2012, employers must use new Form 8822-B, Change of Address—Business, for any address change.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

IRS e-file Launches Today; Most Taxpayers Can File Immediately

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service opened the 2012 electronic tax return filing season today with a reminder to taxpayers that e-file remains the best way to get fast refunds and ensure accurate tax returns.

IRS e-file has surpassed the milestone of 1 billion returns processed. The electronic transmission system revolutionized the way the IRS processes tax returns and made speedy refunds possible. More than 112 million income tax returns were e-filed last year, or 77 percent of all individual returns filed.

"E-file is the best option for taxpayers. E-file enables taxpayers to file more accurate returns and receive their refunds quickly and safely," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.

In general, for people concerned about security, e-file has proven itself year in and year out as a safe and secure method of filing a tax return. E-file has a proven track record. Software vendors and paid tax return preparers use the latest encryption technology. Plus, within 48 hours, an electronic acknowledgement is issued that the return has been received by the IRS and either accepted or rejected.
With most people receiving a refund, the fastest way to get a refund is by e-filing and using direct deposit. Taxpayers can get their money automatically in as few as 10 days. Last year, more than 79 million refunds were electronically deposited into taxpayers’ accounts, saving them a trip to the bank.

For people who owe taxes, e-file offers payment alternatives such as filing now and scheduling payment on the April tax deadline. Taxpayers who still want to pay by check can do so by e-filing and then mailing a payment voucher.

Taxpayers can e-file their tax returns one of three ways: through a tax return preparer, through self-preparation software or through IRS Free File. The IRS does not charge for e-file. Many tax return preparers and software products also offer free e-filing with their services. Free File offers free tax preparation and free electronic filing.

Starting this filing season, any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. Taxpayers are encouraged to use tax return preparers who offer IRS e-file.

Taxpayers should also only use paid preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs). Preparers are required to sign the returns they prepare and include their PTINs. Although paid preparers sign returns, taxpayers are legally responsible for the accuracy of every item on their return. Preparers are also required to give taxpayers a copy of their returns.
When using e-file, you also use an e-signature and an electronic filing PIN. If you prepare your own return using software you must use the self-select PIN method on the return. When using a paid preparer, you can still use the self-select PIN method or the practitioner PIN method. The Electronic Filing PIN is a temporary PIN used by the IRS to verify your identity when you e-file.

IRS Free File, which has been making taxes a little less taxing for a decade, also begins today, Jan. 17. Everyone can use Free File, either the brand-name software offered by IRS’ commercial partners or the online fillable forms. Individuals or families with 2011 adjusted gross incomes of $57,000 or less can use Free File software. Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms, has no income restrictions.

Top Tips Every Taxpayer Should Know about Identity Theft

Identity theft often starts outside of the tax administration system when someone’s personal information is unfortunately stolen or lost. Identity thieves may then use a taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. In other cases, the identity thief uses the taxpayer’s personal information in order to get a job. The legitimate taxpayer may be unaware that anything has happened until they file their return later in the filing season and it is discovered that two returns have been filed using the same Social Security number.

Here are the top 13 things the IRS wants you to know about identity theft so you can avoid becoming the victim of an identity thief.

1. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS does not send emails stating you are being electronically audited or that you are getting a refund.

2. If you receive a scam e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

3. Identity thieves get your personal information by many different means, including:
* Stealing your wallet or purse
* Posing as someone who needs information about you through a phone call or
* Looking through your trash for personal information
* Accessing information you provide to an unsecured Internet site.

4. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but does not begin with ‘www.irs.gov,’ forward that link to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

5. To learn how to identify a secure website, visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.onguardonline.gov/tools/recognize-secure-site-using-ssl.aspx.

6. If your Social Security number is stolen, another individual may use it to get a job. That person’s employer may report income earned by them to the IRS using your Social Security number, thus making it appear that you did not report all of your income on your tax return. When this occurs, you should contact the IRS to show that the income is not yours. Your record will be updated to reflect only your information. You will also be asked to submit substantiating documentation to authenticate yourself. That information will be used to minimize this occurrence in future years.

7. Your identity may have been stolen if a letter from the IRS indicates more than one tax return was filed for you or the letter states you received wages from an employer you don’t know. If you receive such a letter from the IRS, leading you to believe your identity has been stolen, respond immediately to the name, address or phone number on the IRS notice.

8. If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost wallet, questionable credit card activity, or credit report, you need to provide the IRS with proof of your identity. You should submit a copy of your valid government-issued identification – such as a Social Security card, driver’s license, or passport – along with a copy of a police report and/or a completed IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, which should be faxed to the IRS at 978-684-4542. Please be sure to write clearly. As an option, you can also contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free at 800-908-4490. You should also follow FTC guidance for reporting identity theft at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

9. Show your Social Security card to your employer when you start a job or to your financial institution for tax reporting purposes. Do not routinely carry your card or other documents that display your Social Security number.

10. For more information about identity theft – including information about how to report identity theft, phishing and related fraudulent activity – visit the IRS Identity Theft and Your Tax Records Page, which you can find by searching “Identity Theft” on the IRS.gov home page.

11. IRS impersonation schemes flourish during tax season and can take the form of e-mail, phone websites, even tweets. Scammers may also use a phone or fax to reach their victims. If you receive a paper letter or notice via mail claiming to be the IRS but you suspect it is a scam, contact the IRS at http://www.irs.gov/contact/index.html to determine if it is a legitimate IRS notice or letter. If it is a legitimate IRS notice or letter, reply if needed. If the caller or party that sent the paper letter is not legitimate, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. You may also fax the notice/letter you received, plus any related or supporting information, to TIGTA. Note that this is not a toll-free FAX number 1-202-927-7018.

12. While preparing your tax return for electronic filing, make sure to use a strong password to protect the data file. Once your return has been e-filed, burn the file to a CD or flash drive and remove the personal information from your hard drive. Store the CD or flash drive in a safe place, such as a lock box or safe. If working with an accountant, you should ask them what measures they take to protect your information.

13. If you have information about the identity thief that impacted your personal information negatively, file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 gives victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. IC3 sends every complaint to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the matter.