Tag Archives: IRS

Security Warning for COVID Related Scams

The Security Summit, a coalition of the IRS, state tax agencies, and the private sector tax industry, is warning taxpayers about a new text scam that tricks people into disclosing bank account information under the guise of receiving the $1,200 Economic Impact Payment (EIP).

The text message states: “You have received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 TREAS FUND. Further action is required to accept this payment into your account. Continue here to accept this payment” This is followed by a link to a fake phishing web address. The IRS reminds taxpayers that it will never send texts asking for bank account information. Those targeted by the scam should take a screen shot of the text message and email it to phishing@irs.gov with the (1) date, time, and time zone that they received the message; (2) the number that appeared on their caller ID; and (3) the number that received the text message.

News Release IR 2020-249.

If you receive any notice like this, please contact us to discuss if we can be of assistance.

 

IRS Scams – 2020 IRS Dirty Dozen

The IRS recently announced the top dozen IRS scams as noted in IR-2020-160, July 16, 2020.

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/dirty-dozen

They are listed below:

Phishing:

What Is Phishing and How to Recognize It? - Mailjet

Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a tax bill, refund or Economic Impact Payments. Don’t click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Be wary of emails and websites − they may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information. VA Comment: We have been informed by a handful of our clients that they have received IRS emails.  Please note that this is one of the top IRS scams.  Make sure everyone in your accounting department knows this so you can reduce your risk of a financial crime.

IRS Criminal Investigation has seen a tremendous increase in phishing schemes utilizing emails, letters, texts and links. These phishing schemes are using keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “Stimulus” in various ways.

These schemes are blasted to large numbers of people in an effort to get personal identifying information or financial account information, including account numbers and passwords. Most of these new schemes are actively playing on the fear and unknown of the virus and the stimulus payments. (For more see IR-2020-115, IRS warns against COVID-19 fraud; other financial schemes.)

Fake Charities:

9 Positive Effects of Donating Money to Charity - The Life You Can ...

Criminals frequently exploit natural disasters and other situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal from well-intentioned people trying to help in times of need. Fake charity scams generally rise during times like these.

Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, e-mail or in-person using a variety of tactics. Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information. They may even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

Taxpayers should be particularly wary of charities with names like nationally known organizations. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Number (EIN), if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy. Taxpayers can find legitimate and qualified charities with the search tool on IRS.gov.

Threatening Impersonator Phone Calls:

IRS impersonation scams come in many forms. A common one remains bogus threatening phone calls from a criminal claiming to be with the IRS. The scammer attempts to instill fear and urgency in the potential victim. In fact, the IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or surprise him or her with a demand for immediate payment.  VA Comments: If you receive a call from the IRS or any government authority, and you are not sure, please get their contact information and contact Vertical Advisors so we can assist quickly. 

Phone scams or “vishing” (voice phishing) pose a major threat. Scam phone calls, including those threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill, are reported year-round. These calls often take the form of a “robocall” (a text-to-speech recorded message with instructions for returning the call).

The IRS will never demand immediate payment, threaten, ask for financial information over the phone, or call about an unexpected refund or Economic Impact Payment. Taxpayers should contact the real IRS if they worry about having a tax problem.

Social Media Scams:

Social Media Scam – Infusion Lawyers

Taxpayers need to protect themselves against social media scams, which frequently use events like COVID-19 to try tricking people. Social media enables anyone to share information with anyone else on the Internet. Scammers use that information as ammunition for a wide variety of scams. These include emails where scammers impersonate someone’s family, friends or co-workers.

Social media scams have also led to tax-related identity theft. The basic element of social media scams is convincing a potential victim that he or she is dealing with a person close to them that they trust via email, text or social media messaging.

Using personal information, a scammer may email a potential victim and include a link to something of interest to the recipient which contains malware intended to commit more crimes. Scammers also infiltrate their victim’s emails and cell phones to go after their friends and family with fake emails that appear to be real and text messages soliciting, for example, small donations to fake charities that are appealing to the victims.

EIP or Refund Theft:

The IRS has made great strides against refund fraud and theft in recent years, but they remain an ongoing threat. Criminals this year also turned their attention to stealing Economic Impact Payments as provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Much of this stems from identity theft whereby criminals file false tax returns or supply other bogus information to the IRS to divert refunds to wrong addresses or bank accounts.

The IRS recently warned nursing homes and other care facilities that Economic Impact Payments generally belong to the recipients, not the organizations providing the care. This came following concerns that people and businesses may be taking advantage of vulnerable populations who received the payments. These payments do not count as a resource for determining eligibility for Medicaid and other federal programs They also do not count as income in determining eligibility for these programs. See IR-2020-121, IRS alert: Economic Impact Payments belong to recipient, not nursing homes or care facilities for more.

Taxpayers can consult the Coronavirus Tax Relief page of IRS.gov for assistance in getting their EIPs. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of identity theft should consult the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft on IRS.gov.

Senior Fraud:

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Senior citizens and those who care about them need to be on alert for tax scams targeting older Americans. The IRS recognizes the pervasiveness of fraud targeting older Americans along with the Department of Justice and FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), among others.

Seniors are more likely to be targeted and victimized by scammers than other segments of society. Financial abuse of seniors is a problem among personal and professional relationships. Anecdotal evidence across professional services indicates that elder fraud goes down substantially when the service provider knows a trusted friend or family member is taking an interest in the senior’s affairs.

Older Americans are becoming more comfortable with evolving technologies, such as social media. Unfortunately, that gives scammers another means of taking advantage. Phishing scams linked to Covid-19 have been a major threat this filing season. Seniors need to be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information.

Scams targeting non-English speakers:

IRS impersonators and other scammers also target groups with limited English proficiency. These scams are often threatening in nature. Some scams also target those potentially receiving an Economic Impact Payment and request personal or financial information from the taxpayer.

Phone scams pose a major threat to people with limited access to information, including individuals not entirely comfortable with the English language. These calls frequently take the form of a “robocall” (a text-to-speech recorded message with instructions for returning the call), but in some cases may be made by a real person. These con artists may have some of the taxpayer’s information, including their address, the last four digits of their Social Security number or other personal details – making the phone calls seem more legitimate.

A common one remains the IRS impersonation scam where a taxpayer receives a telephone call threatening jail time, deportation or revocation of a driver’s license from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Taxpayers who are recent immigrants often are the most vulnerable and should ignore these threats and not engage the scammers.

Unscrupulous Return Preparers:

Selecting the right return preparer is important. They are entrusted with a taxpayer’s sensitive personal data. Most tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but dishonest preparers pop up every filing season committing fraud, harming innocent taxpayers or talking taxpayers into doing illegal things they regret later.

Taxpayers should avoid so-called “ghost” preparers who expose their clients to potentially serious filing mistakes as well as possible tax fraud and risk of losing their refunds. With many tax professionals impacted by COVID-19 and their offices potentially closed, taxpayers should take particular care in selecting a credible tax preparer.

Ghost preparers don’t sign the tax returns they prepare. They may print the tax return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS. For e-filed returns, the ghost preparer will prepare but not digitally sign as the paid preparer. By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assists in preparing federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns.

Unscrupulous preparers may also target those without a filing requirement and may or may not be due a refund. They promise inflated refunds by claiming fake tax credits, including education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and others. Taxpayers should avoid preparers who ask them to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at the taxpayer’s records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund.

Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of their tax return, regardless of who prepares it. Taxpayers can go to a special page on IRS.gov for tips on choosing a preparer.

Offer in Compromise Mills:

Taxpayers need to wary of misleading tax debt resolution companies that can exaggerate chances to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” through an Offer in Compromise (OIC). These offers are available for taxpayers who meet very specific criteria under law to qualify for reducing their tax bill. But unscrupulous companies oversell the program to unqualified candidates so they can collect a hefty fee from taxpayers already struggling with debt.  VA Comment:   We hear these ads often.  We have had individuals contact us after companies that advertise to settle IRS debt for “pennies on the dollar” didn’t work.  The IRS does have OIC program, but it can be very changelings to settle debt for “pennies on the dollar.”.  We have never seen a settlement for “pennies on the dollar”.    

These scams are commonly called OIC “mills,” which cast a wide net for taxpayers, charge them pricey fees and churn out applications for a program they’re unlikely to qualify for. Although the OIC program helps thousands of taxpayers each year reduce their tax debt, not everyone qualifies for an OIC. In Fiscal Year 2019, there were 54,000 OICs submitted to the IRS. The agency accepted 18,000 of them.

Individual taxpayers can use the free online Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool to see if they qualify. The simple tool allows taxpayers to confirm eligibility and provides an estimated offer amount. Taxpayers can apply for an OIC without third-party representation; but the IRS reminds taxpayers that if they need help, they should be cautious about whom they hire.

Fake Payments with Repayment Demands:

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Criminals are always finding new ways to trick taxpayers into believing their scam including putting a bogus refund into the taxpayer’s actual bank account. Here’s how the scam works:

A con artist steals or obtains a taxpayer’s personal data including Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and bank account information. The scammer files a bogus tax return and has the refund deposited into the taxpayer’s checking or savings account. Once the direct deposit hits the taxpayer’s bank account, the fraudster places a call to them, posing as an IRS employee. The taxpayer is told that there’s been an error and that the IRS needs the money returned immediately or penalties and interest will result. The taxpayer is told to buy specific gift cards for the amount of the refund.

The IRS will never demand payment by a specific method. There are many payment options available to taxpayers and there’s also a process through which taxpayers have the right to question the amount of tax we say they owe. Anytime a taxpayer receives an unexpected refund and a call from us out of the blue demanding a refund repayment, they should reach out to their banking institution and to the IRS.

 

Payroll and HR Scams:

Tax professionals, employers and taxpayers need to be on guard against phishing designed to steal Form W-2s and other tax information. These are Business Email Compromise (BEC) or Business Email Spoofing (BES). This is particularly true with many businesses closed and their employees working from home due to COVID-19. Currently, two of the most common types of these scams are the gift card scam and the direct deposit scam.

In the gift card scam, a compromised email account is often used to send a request to purchase gift cards in various denominations. In the direct deposit scheme, the fraudster may have access to the victim’s email account (also known as an email account compromise or “EAC”). They may also impersonate the potential victim to have the organization change the employee’s direct deposit information to reroute their deposit to an account the fraudster controls.

BEC/BES scams have used a variety of ploys to include requests for wire transfers, payment of fake invoices as well as others. In recent years, the IRS has observed variations of these scams where fake IRS documents are used in to lend legitimacy to the bogus request. For example, a fraudster may attempt a fake invoice scheme and use what appears to be a legitimate IRS document to help convince the victim.

The Direct Deposit and other BEC/BES variations should be forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) where a complaint can be filed. The IRS requests that Form W-2 scams be reported to: phishing@irs.gov (Subject: W-2 Scam).

Ransomware:

This is a growing cybercrime. Ransomware is malware targeting human and technical weaknesses to infect a potential victim’s computer, network or server. Malware is a form of invasive software that is often frequently inadvertently downloaded by the user. Once downloaded, it tracks keystrokes and other computer activity. Once infected, ransomware looks for and locks critical or sensitive data with its own encryption. In some cases, entire computer networks can be adversely impacted.

Victims generally aren’t aware of the attack until they try to access their data, or they receive a ransom request in the form of a pop-up window. These criminals don’t want to be traced so they frequently use anonymous messaging platforms and demand payment in virtual currency such as Bitcoin.

Cybercriminals might use a phishing email to trick a potential victim into opening a link or attachment containing the ransomware. These may include email solicitations to support a fake COVID-19 charity. Cybercriminals also look for system vulnerabilities where human error is not needed to deliver their malware.

The IRS and its Security Summit partners have advised tax professionals and taxpayers to use the free, multi-factor authentication feature being offered on tax preparation software products. Use of the multi-factor authentication feature is a free and easy way to protect clients and practitioners’ offices from data thefts. Tax software providers also offer free multi-factor authentication protections on their Do-It-Yourself products for taxpayers.

Please call us at 949-756-8080 if we can be of assistance.

IRS Won’t Postpone July 15 Filing and Payment Deadline

IRS Won’t Postpone July 15 Filing and Payment Deadline:

The IRS has announced that the tax filing and payment deadline of 7/15/20 won’t be postponed. Individual taxpayers unable to meet the deadline should file Form 4868 by 7/15/20 to obtain an automatic extension to 10/15/20. The IRS reminds taxpayers that an extension provides additional time to file a tax return, but not to pay any taxes due. Taxpayers facing hardships, including those affected by COVID-19, have several options available, including an online payment agreement, installment agreement, offer in compromise, and a temporary collection delay. The IRS recommends that taxpayers who are unable to pay their taxes in full should act as quickly as possible. News Release IR 2020-134.

Copyright © 2020 Thomson Reuters/PPC. All rights reserved.

IRS CARES Act Update

Guidance Released for Plan Distributions and Loans for COVID-19 Victims:

The IRS has provided guidance relating to section 2202 of the CARES Act, which allows qualified individuals to receive favorable tax treatment with respect to distributions from eligible retirement plans that are coronavirus-related distributions. A coronavirus-related distribution of up to $100,000 is not subject to the 10% additional tax under IRC Sec. 72(t) and generally is includible in income over a three-year period. However, qualified individuals have three years to repay a coronavirus-related distribution to a plan or IRA and undo the tax consequences of the distribution. The CARES Act also increases the allowable plan loan amount under IRC Sec. 72(p) and permits a suspension of loan repayments due from 3/27/20 through 12/31/20 that are made to qualified individuals. The guidance expands the definition of who is a qualified individual and is intended to assist employers, plan administrators, trustees, and custodians by providing guidance on how plans may report coronavirus-related distributions and how taxpayers may report these distributions on their individual federal income tax returns. Notice 2020-50 and News Release IR 2020-124.

Please contact us at 949-756-8080 if we can be of assistance.

Coronavirus – Related Tax Relief for Qualified Opportunity Funds and Investors

The IRS has provided tax relief to Qualified Opportunity Funds (QOFs) and their investors in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, if a taxpayer’s 180th day to invest in a QOF would have fallen on or after 4/1/20 and before 12/31/20, the taxpayer now has until 12/31/20 to invest eligible gain in a QOF. Also, the period between 4/1/20 and 12/31/20 is suspended for purposes of the 30-month period during which property may be substantially improved. The IRS also has announced that, due to COVID-19, a QOF’s failure to hold less than 90% of its assets in Qualified Opportunity Zone Property on any semiannual testing date from 4/1/20 through 12/31/20 is due to reasonable cause under IRC Sec. 1400Z-2(f)(3) and such failure does not prevent qualification of an entity as a QOF or an investment in a QOF from being a qualifying investment. Notice 2020-39 and News Release IR 2020-114.

PPP Loan Forgiveness Update

If you received a PPP loan, please make sure you read the PPP Loan Forgiveness rules, and contact if you need assistance.  We felt the US Chamber of Commerce Guide was well written.  You can view it at https://www.uschamber.com/report/guide-ppp-loan-forgiveness

If you have questions, or need assistance with preparing for the loan forgiveness application, please contact us for assistance.

Haven’t received your stimulus payment? What can you do…

If you haven’t received your CARES Act taxpayer stimulus payment go to “Get My Payment” website at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment and enter your direct deposit information to order to receive an electronic economic impact payment.  This is needed by noon on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

As a reminder, individuals could receive up to $1,200 and married couples could receive up to $2,400.  Parents could also receive $500 for qualifying children.  For more information, you can read IR-2020-92 at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/act-by-wednesday-for-chance-to-get-quicker-economic-impact-payment-timeline-for-payments-continues-to-accelerate

 

The IRS clarifies the deductibility of PPP-funded expenses

The IRS has issued new guidance addressing a question that has lingered since the launch of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — whether expenses paid for with forgiven, tax-free PPP loan proceeds are deductible business expenses under Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The guidance in IRS Notice 2020-32 doesn’t provide the answer borrowers hoped for, but that may yet come.

The root of the question

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act created the widely publicized PPP to help some employers cover their payrolls during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. PPP loans are subject to 100% forgiveness if certain criteria are met, and the amounts forgiven are excluded from the borrower’s gross income. This is notable because forgiven debt generally is taxed as cancellation of debt income.

The program is open to U.S. businesses with fewer than 500 employees — including sole proprietors, self-employed individuals, independent contractors and nonprofits — affected by COVID-19. The loans may be used to cover payroll, certain employee healthcare benefits, mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on any other existing debt, for eight weeks after receipt of funds. Forgiveness is available for payments for payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utilities.

While the CARES Act explicitly states that forgiven PPP loan amounts aren’t included in the borrower’s gross income, it doesn’t expressly state whether borrowers can claim business expense deductions for the expenditures the forgiven amounts cover. Notice 2020-32 comes in response to requests from the tax community for clarification on this point.

The IRS’s position

Unfortunately, the guidance states that no deduction is allowed for an expense that’s otherwise deductible if the payment of the expense results in forgiveness of a PPP loan. It explains that, to prevent a double tax benefit, IRC Sec. 265 disallows a deduction for any amount otherwise allowable as a deduction that’s allocable to tax-exempt income (other than interest). The IRS asserts that forgiven PPP funds constitute such tax-exempt income.

In other words, the IRS maintains that a business shouldn’t be allowed to avoid taxable cancellation of debt income on forgiven PPP loan amounts and also to deduct the payments made with those loan amounts. The result for borrowers essentially is an offset of the tax benefit — the forgiven amounts are excluded from gross income but the deduction(s) for those amounts are eliminated.

The pushback

The IRS may not have the last word on the deduction issue, though. Members of Congress are signaling that the expenses paid by forgiven PPP loan proceeds should indeed be tax deductible.

For example, both Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, have indicated that the IRS interpretation runs contrary to the goal of the PPP. They’ve said they would like the discrepancy to be remedied legislatively in the near future.

It’s also possible that a borrower will challenge the IRS stance in court. Or the IRS simply could succumb to pressure from the public, Congress and/or the administration and reverse its interpretation.

A juggling act

The tax consequences of obtaining PPP loan forgiveness and other federal relief options can prove complicated, especially with the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department regularly releasing new regulations and guidance. We can help you keep up with the latest developments and tax strategies and what they mean for you.

© 2020

SBA extends the PPP repayment deadline for self-certification

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has extended the repayment deadline for Payroll Protection Program (PPP) borrowers that wish to take advantage of the “good faith” self-certification of eligibility option. The deadline is now automatically extended from May 7, 2020, to May 14, 2020.

Companies that repay their loans by that date preempt the possibility of criminal liability if they’re subsequently found ineligible for PPP loans. The loans are intended to help small businesses with fewer than 500 employees weather the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but some large companies have applied for and received funds.

Extended safe harbor

In April 2020, the U.S. Treasury and the SBA issued frequently asked questions (FAQs) on PPP loans. One question asks whether businesses owned by large companies with adequate sources of liquidity to support their ongoing operations qualify for PPP loans.

The SBA explained that — in addition to reviewing applicable affiliation rules to determine eligibility — all borrowers must evaluate their economic need for a loan under the standards in effect at the time of the loan application. The standards are set by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which established the PPP, as well as subsequent regulations.

Among other things, borrowers must certify that their PPP loan request is necessary. Specifically, they must certify that “current economic uncertainty” makes the loan necessary to support ongoing operations. The certification must be made in good faith, taking into account the borrower’s current business activity and ability to access other sources of liquidity in a way that’s not “significantly detrimental” to the business.

The FAQs originally provided that any borrower that applied for a loan prior to April 24, 2020, and repays the funds in full by May 7, 2020, would be deemed by the SBA to have made the certification in good faith. As of May 5, 2020, though, the FAQs have been revised to reflect an extension of this safe harbor to May 14, 2020. The extension will be automatically implemented, with no need for borrowers to apply for it.

Potential criminal liability

Companies that don’t take advantage of the safe harbor and are later found ineligible for the PPP could face criminal liability, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The loan application notes that making a false statement to obtain a guaranteed loan from the SBA is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

A borrower that falsely self-certified also could be subject to criminal or civil liability under the False Claims Act (FCA). The FCA permits treble damages, or triple the amount of the government’s actual damages, as well as civil penalties, imprisonment up to five years and a fine up to $250,000 for criminal liability.

A tangled web

Be aware that, according to a recently revised IRS FAQ, companies must repay their PPP loans by May 7, 2020, to qualify for the employee retention credit. We can help you with business consulting and evaluate all of the potential strategies to make the most of the federal COVID-19 relief programs.

© 2020

Paycheck Protection Program Loan (PPPL)

Proceeds that are forgiven will generate reduced income tax deductions.

The IRS has just released IRS Notice 2020-32 that informed the public if a taxpayer requests and is approved some or all of the PPPL to be forgiven, then that amount that we used for expenses related to payroll, health care, rent, interest expense and other related qualified costs will not be deductible. This IRS notice is related to Internal Revenue Code Section 265, which stated in summary that expenses related to tax-exempt income are not tax deductible.

Also, consider that GAAP will treat the accounting differently for loan forgiveness. “ASC 405-20 provides accounting guidance relevant to the extinguishment of liabilities. Under ASC 405,when a debtor is legally released from a liability, the debt is considered extinguished via “legal defeasance.” Based on the information available at this time, loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program appears to fit the characteristics of a legal defeasance and could therefore be accounted for as a debt extinguishment.” Please reach out to us if you have any specific questions. We have attached a link for you to read IRS Notice 2020-32 at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-20-32.pdf