Tax Problem Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in Tax Debt

Handcuffs arrests dollar currency crime human hand

As many tax controversy attorneys can state, tax problems can lead to major issues including a tax audit and even criminal tax charges. Even though tax problems are typically serious matters there are certain tax crimes that stand out even among serious offenses. Tax Evasion and tax fraud involving the use of stolen identities and stolen personal information is not only one of those crimes that can be punished particularly severely, it is also a major enforcement focus for both the Department Of Justice and the IRS. Taxpayers facing tax fraud or tax evasion charges should consult a tax lawyer before admitting anything to federal agents or prior to taking any action on the tax problem.

Queen of Tax Fraud Likely to Spend Decades in Prison
In a widely-reported tax conviction, Rashia Wilson was sentenced to more than two decades in prison due to her part in an identity theft and tax fraud scheme. While tax sentences are often harsh, this sentence stood apart in severity perhaps due to her other weapons charges, and her apparent propensity to brag and challenge law enforcement officials over social media. In one online posting, Ms. Wilson wrote:

“I’M RASHIA, THE QUEEN OF IRS TAX FRAUD… I’m a millionaire for the record, so if U think indicting me will B easy it won’t, I promise you! U need more than black and white to hold me down N that’s to da rat who went N told, as if 1st lady don’t have da TPD under her spell. I run Tampa right now.”

However, law enforcement officials were undeterred by these remarks and as part of “Operation Rainmaker”, they identified, arrested and charged Ms. Wilson and others. Also contributing to Ms. Wilson’s harsh sentence was her more than 40 previous arrests. Ms. Wilson appealed her sentence of 21 years, but to no avail. Ms. Wilson is currently serving her time at the Aliceville Federal Correctional Institute in Alabama.

27 Year Tax Fraud Sentence Shows the Severe Consequences of a Tax Charge
Ms. Wilson is not alone in having received a harsh sentence. James Lee Cobb III, also engaged in a scheme in which he claimed income tax refunds intended for other taxpayers. Mr. Cobb pleaded guilty to collecting more than 7,000 Social Security numbers that he then used to fraudulently obtain tax refunds. In all, Mr. Cobb admitted to stealing at least $1.8 million in tax refunds. For his crimes Mr. Cobb was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Stolen Identity Return Fraud is a Major Tax Enforcement Focus
Both of the individuals discussed about engaged in the same type of fraud: Stolen Identity Return Fraud (SIRF). SIRF is a major tax enforcement priority not only because it is a major crime engaged in by both petty crooks and international criminal organizations. Left unchecked, this problem has the potential to disrupt the orderly administration of the U.S. Tax Code. In its most basic permutation, SIRF crimes involve the use of stolen personal identifiers to obtain a fraudulent tax refund. Typically the perpetrator of the fraud will file the fraudulent return early in the tax season when there is a high likelihood that the real taxpayer has not yet filed. The perpetrator of the fraud then directs the refund to a mailbox he or she controls or can access. Alternatively, the individual may use an electronic funds transfer to another account.

SIRF is widespread. The Department of Justice believes that from May 2008 to May 2012, more than 550,000 taxpayers had their identity stolen for use in SIRF. However, the DOJ touts significant success in combating this problem. Aside from the convictions discussed above, the DOJ has also secured convictions or guilty pleas in recent tax matters including:

  • May 11, 2015– The DOJ issued a press release regarding the guilty plea of a Raleigh, South Carolina man who used others’ Social Security numbers along with false information to obtain tax refunds.
  • May 12, 2015– A D.C. man was sentenced to more than three years in prison for his role in a SIRF scheme. More than $1.1 million in fraudulent refunds were requested.
  • June 1, 2015– After federal agents charged Alabama woman Teresa Floyd, she admitted her guilt as part of a SIRF scheme. Floyd faces up to two years in prison for aggravated identity theft charges and up to 10 years for the conspiracy charges. She also faces significant monetary penalties.

SIRF may be a major problem, but federal investigators from the IRS and DOJ have taken notice and are cracking down. The Brager Tax Law Group is dedicated to assisting taxpayers facing serious tax problems and tax charges. We can provide strategic advocacy for taxpayers charged with serious tax crimes. To schedule a reduced-rate tax consultation call us at 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR today or contact us online.

warning irs audit conceptual road sign over sky

The IRS and Department of Justice have cracked down on tax fraud and tax evasion regardless of its form. However, in recent announcements the Department of Justice has revealed its targeted enforcement focus on business payroll tax fraud, offshore tax fraud including non-compliance with FATCA & FBAR, Stolen Identity Tax Return Fraud (SIRF), and other forms of tax fraud. Beyond the enforcement focus, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline Ciraolo revealed that the Department of Justice’s Tax Division averages around 6,000 active matters. These cases are worked by approximately 340 attorneys, who are successful in more than 95 percent of the cases they prosecute.

In light of such odds, many taxpayers may hope that time alone will cure their tax problems. However betting on the statute of limitations is a risky proposition complicated by the fact that the actions you take can extend the time for charges to be brought by years. However knowing approximately how long you may be required to prove the source of income or the propriety of deductions can bring some peace of mind. However, no action can substitute for a conservative and meticulous handling of all your tax filing, payment, and disclosure obligations by a tax professional.

How Long Does the IRS Typically Have to Bring a Tax Audit?
The basic rule for the IRS’ ability to look back into the past and conduct a tax audit is that the agency has three years from your filing date to audit your tax filing for that year. However, taxpayers who fail to include all sources of their income may face a longer time period. That is, taxpayers who omit greater than 25 percent of their total income are subject to a six year lookback window. However, the foregoing is contingent on the taxpayer not voluntarily agreeing to an extension of time for the IRS to audit. The IRS may, and often does, request additional time to complete its audit. Because every tax situation is unique, if you find yourself the recipient of such a request it is wise to seek the advice of an experienced tax attorney.

Can Allegations of Serious Wrongdoing Affect the Time the IRS has to Investigate?
Unfortunately for taxpayers accused of engaging in tax fraud the time limit for how long the IRS has to assess additional taxes and penalties is unlimited – though it becomes increasingly less likely for the IRS to open as a civil tax audit as the allegedly wrongful acts become more remote in time. Under Section 6531(2) of the U.S. Tax Code, the IRS has six years from the time the tax return is filed or from the last willful act that prevented the filing of a tax return from bringing a criminal tax charges. However, it can be difficult to pinpoint when, exactly, the last willful act occurred. Furthermore, in criminal tax matters the statute of limitations will be tolled by one’s status as a fugitive or if the accused is outside of the United States.

The time the IRS has to assess a tax liability should not be confused with the time it has to collect a tax liability. Generally speaking the IRS has 10 years from the date of assessment to collect the liability. That 10 year period is subject to numerous circumstances which will cause the extension of the 10 year period including offers in compromise, requests for collection due process hearings, bankruptcy, and absence from the United States. In addition, if the IRS files suit to reduce the tax lien to judgment it can extend the time it has to collect. Indeed the IRS takes the position in the Internal Revenue Manual that it may collect against the taxpayer’s real or personal property indefinitely!

The Brager Tax Law Group is dedicated to providing strategic tax advice for serious tax problems. To schedule a tax consultation with one of our tax professionals call 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR today or contact us online.

1040

You filed your taxes like you were supposed to and you should be able to spend the rest of the year free from worries about taxes. But, then one day it appears. The envelope is fairly nondescript except for the name and address of the Internal Revenue Service emblazoned upon it. Maybe you tear it open immediately or maybe you wait until you are feeling a little braver, but in either case your mind starts racing and you can’t quite shake the feeling that you’ll soon be facing major tax problems.

However, not every notice from the IRS represents a major issue or concern. But, if you do receive a notice that alleges that serious tax mistakes or tax crimes have occurred, the Brager Tax Law Group may be able to help you resolve your issues with the IRS.

Above all else, do not panic if your see a notice from the Internal Revenue Service
When one sees a letter from the IRS it can be difficult to keep one’s mind from wandering to the parade of potential horribles that could be lurking inside the envelope. While many may fear the dreaded IRS audit, an audit only represents one potential possibility – good, bad or neutral – that can come out of a letter sent by the IRS. Now, despite out first assumption usually being the worst, take account of the fact that there are, at least, three potential classes of outcomes here. A positive outcome is possible if the notice had been sent to advise you of an error in your favor or a larger than expected return. The notice can also be neutral in that it may simply state that the IRS has received and has processed or is processing your documents. However, there is the chance that the letter will not bring good news. It may notify the taxpayer of an underpayment of tax, offshore account issues, or that the IRS has identified other problems with the return. If you are unsure or confused by the notice you receive, it is always prudent to bring it to a tax professional so that it can be reviewed and your mind can be put at ease.

If you need more time, simply ask the IRS
Recommending that taxpayer seek professional tax help often elicits the response of, “But what if I don’t have time to see a tax lawyer –or accountant?” This is an understandable objection because people live extremely busy lives. There are, no doubt, a multitude of interests and obligations that compete for our time and attention. But, “I didn’t have enough time,” is almost never an acceptable excuse for failing to consult with a tax professional when criminal or civil tax consequences are possible.

This is because, if they are legally able to do so, the IRS is typically willing to grant a brief when the taxpayer asks for it. Therefore, if the agent asks you a question that you do not think you can answer honestly or without admitting to a tax violation or tax crime, you can often request additional time. The IRS agent is aware of the seriousness of the situation and the fact that you need to ensure that any statements you make to the IRS are accurate. Therefore, if the taxpayer asks for more time to review and prepare their records, the IRS is typically willing to grant it. You can use this time to gather evidence that supports your claims and to contact a tax attorney.

However, you must be sure that you request an extension within any applicable time limits or statutes of limitations. For instance, if you receive a deficiency notice you only have 90 days to respond in writing to dispute the allegations by filing a Petition with the United States Tax Court. This particular date cannot be extended. However, most other IRS notices are less strict in their timing. A tax lawyer can explain the amount of time you have to respond to the particular notice you have received.

Review your records ensuring that they are accurate and complete
If the notice you received states that you made a mistake in your arithmetic or inputting data from the W-2, 1099 or other tax form be sure that the mistake is yours and not the IRS’. While it is rare, there have been instances of a form mismatch involving 1099s. Therefore, it is essential that you review not only the name and address that appears on the 1099 or other tax form, but also the employer and employee identification numbers, the amount of income reported on the form, and any other information that has been reported in your tax filing.

If you have verified this information, the mistake appears to be on your end, and the amount in controversy is large, it is often prudent to seek the advice and guidance of an experienced tax professional. The Brager Tax Law Group can help you arrange an offer-in-compromise or, depending on the situation, apply for other forms of tax relief. To schedule a confidential consultation, call 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR today or contact us online.

Innocent Spouse

Many married couples find it advantageous to file a joint tax return rather than filing separately. This comes as no surprise as the federal government has built a number of tax advantages for married couples filing jointly into the tax code. These benefits include:

  • Depending income distribution, a lower rate of taxation than they would face filing separately.
  • Increased limits for charitable deductions
  • IRA and retirement account benefits
  • Estate protection
  • Reduced tax administration expenses

However there are also drawbacks to filing jointly with your spouse – especially so if the relationship hits a rough patch or ends in divorce. This is because by filing jointly, you subject yourself to joint and individual liability for everything that appears on the tax return. In other words, absent an exception or relief both members of the couple are liable for everything that appears on the tax form regardless of who prepared it. If your spouse or former spouse made mistakes on the jointly filed taxes or took overly aggressive positions you could find yourself liable for underpayments, fines and penalties.

When is applying for innocent spouse relief appropriate?
The most common instance where issues of innocent spouse relief may come into play is where a couple is headed down the path to a divorce or has already divorced. Often, one of the partners in the marriage was responsible for handling the taxes and the other partner may have only had a limited role in preparing or overseeing the taxes. In the most extreme case, the other spouse may do little more than simply sign off on the return while trusting that his or her partner prepared the taxes thoroughly and accurately.

At some point, the spouse who participated only minimally in the tax preparation process may suspect that his or her spouse may have understated income, overstated deductions or exemptions, or otherwise violated the tax code or committed tax crimes. The innocent taxpayer does not want to remain liable for these outstanding tax debts and penalties because he or she did not create them or cause them. It may be appropriate for a spouse in a spouse in this or a similar position to file for innocent spouse relief.

To apply for innocent spouse relief a taxpayer must file Form 8857 with the IRS. The form must detail and explain why the taxpayer believes that he or she is entitled to such relief. By filing Form 8857 you are asking the IRS to establish a separate tax liability for you that is separate and apart from that of your current or soon-to-be former spouse, or ex-spouse. On the form you must provide information regarding your role in the tax preparation process, whether you were aware of the income, if you had reason to know about the inaccurate statements on the tax form. Depending upon the type of tax relief requested, the filing taxpayer may be required to prove that it would be unfair to hold him or her liable for the tax liability. Whether something is fair or unfair can be highly subjective, but the IRS has provided criteria to help in making this determination. Elements the IRS will examine to determine whether it would be fair to impose the tax against the spouse filing for relief include:

  • The nature of the erroneous item or items on the tax filing
  • The value of the erroneous item or items relative to the remaining items on the tax return
  • The level of participation by the filing taxpayer in the mistake or scheme
  • The filing spouse’s experience in business dealings
  • The filing spouse’s educational history
  • The financial circumstances of each spouse
  • Whether the filing party failed to ask reasonable questions about the return prior to authentication.
  • Is the understatement part of a recurring pattern or an isolated incident?

All of these items will be considered as part of the inquiry as to whether it would be fair to impose the tax liability and decline to provide relief. However other additional requirements apply. For instance, an application for relief must, generally, be filed within two years of the first collection action taken by the IRS, but there are exceptions.

Tax issues after a divorce?
While the standards to be granted innocent spouse status are high, taxpayers are entitled to appeal an IRS determination that is not in their favor to the United States Tax Court. The Brager Tax Law Group can assist you in filing either an initial application for innocent spouse status or in preparing an appeal. By securing this status you may be able to not only resolve the current debt, but will also bring most enforced collection activity to a halt. However, the extent of the relief even if granted can vary based upon the type of relief granted, the terms of the divorce decree, and even the timing of the divorce, and the division of assets. For a confidential tax consultation call our firm at 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR today or contact us online.

Completion of tax form.

If you are living in the United States it can be difficult to miss the numerous announcements and pronouncements of the impending April 15th tax deadline. And yet, every year thousands of US taxpayers will fail to file and pay taxes.

There are a variety of reasons for this failure. These reasons can include situations where the taxpayer simply doesn’t want to pay tax and is concealing income. In other circumstances the taxpayer may know that he or she would be unable to pay and thought that concealing income by not filing would help their tax situation. In still other circumstances the taxpayer may be a young person who simply did not realize that he or she had a filing obligation or the severity of consequences that can follow a failure to report and pay taxes.

While taxpayers could have filed IRS form 4868 prior to the tax deadline to extend their filing deadline by 6 months to October 15, 2015, those who failed to file or extend by the original filing date no longer have this option. However there may be options to correct the tax problem and to come back into compliance with the tax system.

Who must file taxes every year?
To start with, if you would like to retain the possibility of receiving a tax refund, you must file a tax return. This is because only those who file their taxes are eligible to receive their income tax refund from the IRS. If you have overpaid your fair share of taxes, the only way to recover this money is to file your taxes.

Aside from those who would like to receive their income tax refund, your level of income determines whether you have an obligation to file taxes. While the filing threshold is adjusted annually, in 2014, all U.S. citizens, legal residents and others with sufficient connection to the United States who had $10,150 or more in income are required to file taxes with the IRS. If you are age 65 or older, you face similar tax reporting requirements, but the income threshold is greater. The threshold is also higher for married persons filing jointly, or for single persons filing as “head of household.” Those who are claimed as a dependent on another’s taxes face a lower reporting threshold because, as a dependent, the taxpayer is unable to claim their own exemption. Thus a dependent taxpayer must file if his or her earned income exceeds $6,200. However, if the dependent’s income is from interest, dividends or other unearned sources the reporting threshold is only $1,000. Those with net self-employment income of $400 or more must also file a tax return.

Expatriates living abroad must file and pay taxes or be subject to penalties and a potential “Customs hold”
The United States is one of two nations in the world that taxes on the basis of one’s citizenship. This means that U.S. taxpayers are obligated to report and pay tax on their worldwide income. This includes expatriates who are not currently living or working in the United States. However for many expats who are overseas and who are not immersed in the culture and information found in the U.S., complying with the numerous tax laws and foreign account disclosure requirements can be extremely difficult and burdensome. Nevertheless, expats must comply with their tax reporting, tax paying, FATCA, and FBAR obligations.

A “customs hold” is one tax enforcement procedure that targets expatriates who return to the United States either temporarily or permanently. A 2014 audit of the program by TIGTA revealed that the program is intended to target delinquent taxpayers who are living in foreign nations and jurisdictions. When the IRS says it is targeting delinquent taxpayers, this means that it is targeting taxpayers that the IRS has already assessed and found to be owning unpaid taxes. This may occur through an IRS correction to a taxpayer-filed tax return or through a non-filer return filed by the IRS on the behalf of the taxpayer. The common factor here is that the IRS has already assessed tax against the taxpayer and found unpaid tax to be due and owing.

If you have an unpaid tax obligation, the IRS many request a customs hold to be input into the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS). Upon being added to this system, the taxpayer will be sent a letter indicating that a tax collection officer has advised the Department of Homeland Security regarding the taxpayer’s liability and that if the taxpayer attempts to enter the United States he or she will likely be interviewed by a customs officer. Typically the Customs and Border Agent will ask the taxpayer for the address that they will be staying at while they remain in the United States. An IRS agent will then likely make contact with you at some point during your stay about the tax liability.

Contacted by the IRS about unpaid tax?
Whether you are an expat or living in the U.S. and have been contacted by the IRS, the Brager Tax Law Group can help you resolve the issue and come back into compliance. To schedule a confidential tax consultation call 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR or contact us online today.

Taxes

Most accountants, CPAs, and certified tax preparers are honest, hardworking people who are dedicated to their profession. Most tax professionals simply want to secure the best possible tax deal for their clients while following all best practices regarding accuracy. However some tax professionals may over emphasize their ability secure favorable tax treatment for their clients and may cross the line into overly aggressive tax minimization strategies. Even more troubling, other tax preparers may be corrupted by greed and act dishonestly by improperly obtaining or using client tax refunds or other client funds.

If you are a tax professional, you already understand the devastating impact allegations of this type can have on your professional reputation and livelihood. Therefore any tax professional potentially facing an investigation or referral to the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) should immediately retain tax counsel. However laypeople may not understand that mistakes or other improprieties found in tax filings are ultimately the responsibility of the filer.

#1 Tax Lady Indicted for Tax Fraud
Before proceeding any further, it is important to note that this is merely an indictment meaning that charges have been filed and have been presented to the defendant, but they have not yet been proven. The defendant is still innocent under the laws of the United States until prosecutors can prove otherwise. However, this brings us to another important point; the IRS times its announcements of indictments, convictions, and plea deals to coincide with tax time. This approach is intended to deter both tax professionals and taxpayers from taking overly aggressive positions or engaging in questionable tax acts. Furthermore it has the added benefit of making taxpayers more wary so that they are more likely to ask their tax professional tough questions if things don’t seem quite right.

However, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, this deterrent effect did not prevent a slew of tax crimes from a Kalamazoo, Michigan based business. Federal prosecutors allege that Fontrice Lenee Charles participated in a number of tax schemes while promoting herself as the #1 Tax Lady. The main allegations contained in counts 1 through 25 of the indictment allege that Ms. Charles provided false information to the IRS to ensure that her clients would receive large tax refunds. Prosecutors alleged that Ms. Charles provided false information on 482 tax returns that resulted in excessive deductions of about $2 million. If convicted, Ms. Charles could face up to 5 years in prison, among other consequences, for each of these charges.

Ms. Charles also faces charges for alleged improprieties on her own income tax filings for 2010 and 2011. Prosecutors have alleged that Ms. Charles did not report the income from her tax preparation business in these returns and that she claimed a deceased individual as a dependent. Upon conviction, filing a false return can be punished with a prison sentence of up to 3 years.

Tax filers are also impacted by return preparer fraud

For clients of an accountant, CPA, or other tax professional who is convicted of fraud, providing false information or other improprieties the consequences can be harsh. The taxpayer is responsible for the information he or she provides to the IRS. In fact, when a taxpayer signs or otherwise authenticates their tax return, they are certifying the information contained within the tax filing is true and correct under the penalty of perjury. Even if the taxpayer was legitimately fooled by the representations of the tax preparer, errors will have to be corrected. This may include paying additional tax, interest and penalties to correct an underpayment. If excessive deductions were taken, the money will have to be paid back and additional penalties may also apply. In short, failing to ask difficult questions and make sure what your tax preparer is telling you adds up can lead to significant tax problems that may take years to correct.

Rely on our experience when handling tax issues due to preparer errors
The tax attorneys of the Brager Tax Law Group can provide representation for tax preparers who have been accused of tax fraud, errors or other improprieties. Furthermore we can work with individual tax payers who are simply attempting to return to compliance after discovering a tax problem. To schedule a consultation, 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR or contact us online.

Taxes

The Wisconsin owner of several self-help and life development companies received a rather jarring wake-up call when he was convicted on tax crimes and sentenced to a year in federal prison. Eric T. Plantenberg had failed to file taxes for ten years from 2000 to 2010 after he began subscribing to the views of the Church of Compassionate Service. According to court documents the Church of Compassionate Service is a group that advances frivolous tax arguments, chiefly to individuals who are receptive to an anti-tax or anti-government message. Arguments related to and reminiscent of the group’s anti-tax position have been determined to be clearly frivolous by the courts since at least the early 1980s.

What did the tax scam consist of?
It is not uncommon for those promoting tax scams or frivolous tax arguments to associate their argument with a fundamental right and legitimate tax structures. Such an approach can give the frivolous tax argument an air of legitimacy by association and the strength of the fundamental right can cause a layperson to have questions about the extent of rights such as the freedom of speech or religion. In the case of the Church of Compassionate Service, their argument was that a taxpayer could take a religious oath of poverty and become “minister” in their organization. The minister’s income would then flow into the church, operating as a “corporation sole”, thereby relieving the “ministers” of any income, and thus, the obligation to pay or file taxes. The church would then return the money to the “ministers”. The church did not hold religious service or otherwise have any members beyond the “ministers”.

Can I stop filing taxes and paying taxes on religious grounds?
While an attorney or tax professional cannot offer tax advice regarding your specific circumstances without first scrutinizing your tax and financial records, the vast majority of people will not be able to successfully rely on a tax minimization argument like the one above. In fact, for nearly all taxpayers advancing an argument of this type would be considered frivolous. Advancing a frivolous tax argument can potentially be punished by a fine of $5,000, any other accuracy-based civil or criminal tax consequences, a penalty for an erroneous refund, and a civil fraud penalty.

There are extremely limited circumstances where a “corporation sole” argument could withstand scrutiny – chiefly when a bona fide religious leader holds property in the entity for the benefit of the religious organization. But, consider that as early as 1980, the courts had already announced that this type of tax scheme would not be applicable for the majority of filers. In United States v. Peister, the argument that a taxpayer was not liable to file or pay tax after taking an oath of poverty and becoming minister of a church of his own founding was rejected by the courts. In separate 1985 and 1986 cases criminal tax convictions were upheld against defendants who utilized religious entities to avoid tax obligations. In the 1987 case Svedahl v. Commissioner, a $5,000 penalty under § 6673 – Frivolous Tax Arguments – was imposed after defendants argued that purported church entities shielded their income from taxation. In the 2013 Berryman case it was noted that, “[c]ourts have repeatedly rejected similar [corporation sole] arguments as frivolous, imposed penalties for making such arguments, and upheld criminal tax evasion convictions against those making or promoting the use of such arguments.”

What violations and crimes are associated with the failure to file taxes?
Even without advancing a frivolous tax argument, failing to file taxes can constitute a crime or violation.. If this occurs you could be guilty of violating a number of provisions of the tax code including:

  • IRC 6651: It is a violation of the tax code to fail to file or pay taxes. Section (a)(1) discusses the failure to file which can be punished by a penalty of 5 percent, if the failure is for less than a month, or an additional 5 percent per a month thereafter – up to a 25 percent penalty in the aggregate.
  • IRC 6031: this section of the tax code makes it mandatory to file a partnership return. Failures to file these returns is addressed by IRC 6031.
  • IRC 6699: Addresses the failure to file for an S Corporation.

Failing to file taxes by itself, can lead to tax problems including fines and penalties. When those filing failures are further exacerbated by frivolous tax arguments and attempts to conceal the unfiled and unpaid taxes, facing criminal tax charges become increasingly likely. If you have failed to file taxes or are otherwise looking to correct past problems while minimizing the costs of coming back into compliance contact us online or call 800-380-TAX-LITIGATOR today.

currency

Each and every year April 15th brings fear and dread for millions of Americans who fear that they will face a hefty tax liability. Some may even choose to put off the filing by requesting an extension prior to the filing deadline, but the fact remains that the tax will have to be reported and paid at some point. However, for some, their tax return may contain an unexpected surprise: a significant tax refund.

But, if you didn’t expect to receive anything back or if you expected to have to pay, proceed with caution. The refund may be the product on an IRS error. Although the original mistake may be the fault of the IRS, you can still face an audit and other serious tax consequences.

Why are tax refunds issued?
When tax payments are exceeded by the tax liabilities a refund is due. Sometimes a refund is caused by excessive tax withholding. According to the IRS, in 2004, 77% of filed returns triggered a refund. The average refund for that year was $2,100. However, some refunds were significantly higher than this amount. If you receive a refund that doesn’t match your tax return it may indicate that a mistake has been made by the IRS.

You should expect a notice from the IRS within a few days of receiving the refund. If the amount is out of line with what you expected, it is prudent to hold on to the funds and not to spend them until you receive this notice that should explain the refund. If the explanation does not match the refund, you may need to return some or all of the money to the IRS. If you fail to do so the IRS can pursue you for the inadvertently disbursed funds, with interest.

A Mistaken Tax Windfall Can Result in a Prison Sentence
Consider the infamous case of, a Laguna Beach, California man, Stephen McDow who was mistakenly issued an IRS tax refund of $110,000. Mr. McDow found the refund deposited in his Citibank account after the rightful recipient, 67 year old Michelle D., mistakenly provided the IRS with her former bank account number that had been closed in or about 2005. After Mr. McDow received the money, he claimed he thought it was an answered prayer and spent the money to resolve past debts including student loans and expenses from a foreclosure.

Mr. McDow was charged with one felony count of theft of lost property. The potential sentence for the crime was enhanced by the fact that the property was worth over $65,000. Despite the fact that Mr. McDow may not have thought he stole anything he faced a 4 year prison sentence. It pays to be cautious and to wait for an explanation prior to spending a larger than expected refund. In the end, Mr. McDow’s family loaned him the funds to pay back Michelle D, and he was sentenced to 60 days in jail, and 18 months of probation. However if these resources had not been available, the consequences could have been even more severe.

An audit often comes after the refund
This case is clearly an outlier but errors of this type can and do occur and taxpayers must be wary. This is because many people assume that the issuing of a refund indicates approval or, at least, some level of review by the IRS. In reality, the audit can often follow the refund. In fact, in most situations, the IRS has up to 3 years to audit your return. Even if your return has been reviewed and the IRS has corrected math errors, an audit can still occur.

Rely on our experience to resolve your tax problems
The Brager Tax Law group is dedicated to assisting individuals and business with serious tax problems including those caused by an erroneous refund. We can advocate on behalf of the taxpayer and negotiate with the IRS to resolve the issue. To schedule a confidential and initial consultation call 800-380 TAX LITIGATOR or contact us online today.

Taxes

It is not uncommon for many people to want to get done with their taxes as quickly as possible and not devote a moment beyond what they have to. If they complete their own taxes using computer software or an online program, they may rush through the process and fail to read and understand what is being asked. This can lead to failure to make required disclosures, submitting erroneous information to the IRS, and other tax problems. Even if you work with a tax preparer, rushing through the process can still land you in a difficult situation should you fail to disclose all sources of income, submit incomplete tax documents, or fail to provide the tax preparer with all of the information he or she will need to complete your taxes accurately. These failure can result in a tax audit which may reveal further noncompliance with the US Tax Code and additional penalties.

At the Brager Tax Law Group, one of our goals is to provide taxpayers with the information they need to avoid preventable mistakes. Because our practice is focused on helping clients through difficult tax problems we have seen some of the common mistakes filers make because they are rushing through the return or otherwise fail to provide complete and accurate information.

You did not include all sources of income
The failure to report all sources of income is one of the top reasons why individuals end up facing a tax audit. In some instances, the reporting failure may be attributed to an independent contractor position where, rather than a W-2, the worker receives a 1099. The worker may not initially recognize the additional tax burden 1099 status can entail. When the larger than expected tax bill comes due, there can be a strong temptation to “fix” the tax problem by failing to disclose the 1099 income. However, the IRS has systems and procedures in place to catch these instances where the numbers provided by the taxpayer simply do not add up.

In other instances the failure to report foreign income or foreign accounts may lead to a tax audit. The US is one of only a handful of countries that taxes its citizens and green card holders on their worldwide income regardless of where it was earned. In recent years the IRS has significantly stepped up its efforts at detecting and prosecuting offshore tax evasion. If you also hold foreign financial accounts to which an FBAR of FATCA disclosure duty apply, the risks of detection and an audit or criminal investigation become even more pronounced.

You use only whole, round numbers in your filings
While working in powers of tens and using nice, round even numbers makes the math easy to handle, such an approach immediately raises a red flag because the odds of such figures are, at best, implausible. Real life is messy. Rarely will your net earnings, withholdings and deductions equal rounded numbers. Such acts make it easy for the IRS to identify that you did not provide accurate information on your tax return. Aside from facing criminal or civil consequences for providing false or inaccurate tax information, the IRS may also decide to launch an audit to uncover additional wrongdoing.

You take excessive deductions
Tax deductions are intended to prevent taxpayers from paying taxes on certain expenditures. However certain deductions, such as the home office deduction, attract suspicion because it is so commonly abused. Furthermore, excessive deductions are also a common reason for triggering an audit. Some people may think, “How will the IRS know what deductions are legitimate?” However, the IRS does have a general idea because it can compute the average deduction for a filer with similar income levels and circumstances. If your claimed deductions depart significantly from the average, the IRS agent may decide to inquire further through an audit.

Understanding Random Audits
The random audit is also a means through which some people come under additional scrutiny and tax problems are uncovered. Therefore, it is essential that you provide accurate tax information for each and every year where the duty to file taxes exists. If you fear that past filings may subject you to a future audit or you are already facing a tax audit, call the Brager Tax Law Group at (800) 380-TAX LITIGATOR or contact us online today.

Taxes

While many people think that a criminal tax situation is something that cannot happen to them unless they had the intent to defraud the government, the truth is that criminal tax charges can be triggered by even a slight misstep. Mistakes on your taxes that are perceived as willful misstatements by an IRS agent, and accountant or tax preparer malpractice are but a couple of the common ways that well-meaning taxpayers find themselves facing serious criminal penalties including a federal prison sentence.

In short, the things an average person does not know about tax law or tax crimes can hurt them when faced with an IRS audit or criminal investigation. A tax lawyer can help a taxpayer by providing context for any actions or inactions that might be misinterpreted by the agent, and negotiate a more favorable outcome.

Indicators of Tax Fraud
IRM 25.1.2 provides guidance for IRS agents in investigative techniques to be used in identifying tax fraud. One of the methods utilized by agents is to look for and identify indicators, or “badges” of fraud. The IRS has developed lists of these badges of fraud regarding a taxpayer’s income, expenses and deductions, financial books and records kept, income allocations, the taxpayer’s conduct, and the methods of concealment utilized. In brief, the listed indicators of fraud for each category include:

  • Income – Signs of fraud include entire sources of income being omitted, unexplained increases in net worth, expenditures substantially exceed income, no explanation for the source of certain bank deposits, concealing accounts or assets, excessive dealing in cash, and cashing checks considered income at check cashing services.
  • Expenses or Deductions – Claiming dependency status for independent, deceased, or non-existent individuals, claiming false deductions, and claiming business deductions that are actually personal expenses are all considered badges of fraud.
  • Books & Records – Keeping multiple sets of books, irregularly numbering invoices, making false entries in the records, failing to keep records, providing false receipts, and engaging in nonstandard accounting practices can all lead to tax problems.
  • Allocations of Income – If income or profits are distributed to fictitious individuals, the IRS will consider this a sign of fraud.
  • Taxpayer Conduct – Rude or abusive behavior toward the agent, making false statements, incomplete disclosures, failure to follow the advice of an accountant, backdated documents, submission of a false W-4 and other similar acts are all considered badges of fraud.
  • Methods of Concealment – Placing assets in the names of others, transferring property in anticipation of tax bills, secret transactions, transactions outside the typical course of business, and reservation of rights or interests in purportedly transferred property are all considered to be as badges of fraud.

The foregoing is not a comprehensive list of all items considered badges of fraud by the IRS, but it does indicate the types of issues they are looking for.

What actions by the IRS agent may reveal a pending investigation?
If you are already in contact with an IRS agent, certain actions may tip you off that an investigation may soon follow. While it is good practice to contact a tax attorney immediately upon contact with an IRS agent, you should do so immediately if one of the following scenarios occurs:

  • You have been selected for a random audit and you know that the relevant tax years contain false statements or understatements of income.
  • An agent contacts you seeming particularly concerned about your goals for a transaction and what you hoped to accomplish rather than the form of the transaction itself.
  • You have been audited and in regular contact with an IRS agent. The agent then disappears for weeks at a time and will not return your calls.
  • You have been pursued by an IRS agent requesting that you satisfy a tax debt. You call the agent and he or she will not return your calls.
  • Your accountant, bank or financial institution informs you that your records have been subpoenaed.

While these scenarios do not cover every scenario that should raise an alarm, they do give a good sense of the types of events and scenarios that should trigger concern by a taxpayer. If you find yourself in one of the above situations or in similar circumstances, contact the Brager Tax Law Group immediately. Our tax professionals will work to protect you. Contact us by calling (800) TAX LITIGATOR or contact us online.