Las Vegas The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers about groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors, one of the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for the 2017 filing season.
"Fake charities set up by scam artists to steal your money or personal information are a recurring problem," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "Taxpayers should take the time to research organizations before giving their hard-earned money.”
Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime, but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire someone to prepare their taxes.
Perpetrators of illegal scams can face significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
The IRS offers these basic tips to taxpayers making charitable donations:
• Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Numbers (EIN), if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy through EO Select Check. It is advisable to double check using a charity's EIN.
• Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal identities and money from victims. Donors often use credit cards to make donations. Be cautious when disclosing credit card numbers. Confirm that those soliciting a donation are calling from a legitimate charity.
• Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.
Impersonation of Charitable Organizations
Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud involves scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters.
Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists can use a variety of tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
Fraudsters may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims.
To help disaster victims, the IRS encourages taxpayers to donate to recognized charities. Disaster victims can call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (866-562-5227). Phone assistors will answer questions about tax relief or disaster-related tax issues.
Find legitimate and qualified charities with the Select Check search tool on IRS.gov. (EINs are frequently called federal tax identification numbers, which is the same as an EIN).
No matter how careful you are, identity thieves may be able to steal your personal information. If this happens, thieves try to turn that data quickly into cash by filing fraudulent tax returns.
The IRS, state tax agencies and the nation’s tax industry ask for your help in their effort to combat identity theft and fraudulent returns. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.
That’s why we launched a public awareness campaign called “Taxes. Security. Together.” We’ve also started a new series of security awareness tips that can help protect you from cybercriminals.
Here are a few signs that you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft:
1. Your attempt to file your tax return electronically is rejected. You get a message saying a return with a duplicate Social Security number has been filed. First, check to make sure you did not transpose any numbers. Also, make sure one of your dependents, for example, your college-age child, did not file a tax return and claim themselves. If your information is accurate, and you still can’t successfully e-file because of a duplicate SSN, you may be a victim of identity theft. You should complete Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Attach it to the top of a paper tax return and mail to the IRS.
2. You receive a letter from the IRS asking you to verify whether you sent a tax return bearing your name and SSN. The IRS holds suspicious tax returns and sends taxpayers letters to verify them. If you did not file the tax return, follow the instructions in the IRS letter immediately.
3. You receive income information at tax time from an employer unknown to you. Employment-related identity theft involves the use of your SSN by someone, generally an undocumented worker, for employment purposes only.
4. You receive a tax refund that you did not request. You may receive a paper refund check by mail that the thief intended to have sent elsewhere. If you receive a tax refund you did not request, return it to the IRS. Write “VOID” in the endorsement section, and include a note on why you are returning it. If it is a direct deposit refund that you did not request, contact your bank and ask them to return it to the IRS. Search IRS.gov for “Returning an Erroneous Refund” for more information.
5. You receive a tax transcript by mail that you did not request. Identity thieves sometimes try to test the validity of the personal data they have chosen or they attempt to use your data to steal even more information. If you receive a tax transcript in the mail and you did not request it, be alert to the possibility of identity theft.
6. You receive a reloadable, pre-paid debit card in the mail that you did not request. Identity thieves sometimes use your name and address to create an account for a reloadable prepaid debit card that they use for various schemes, including tax-related identity theft.
Taxpayers to Guard Against New Tricks by Scam Artists; Losses Top $20 Million
IR-2015-99, Aug. 6, 2015
WASHINGTON — Following the emergence of new variations of widespread tax scams, the Internal Revenue Service today issued another warning to taxpayers to remain on high alert and protect themselves against the ever-evolving array of deceitful tactics scammers use to trick people.
These schemes – which can occur over the phone, in e-mails or through letters with authentic looking letterhead – try to trick taxpayers into providing personal financial information or scare people into making a false tax payment that ends up with the criminal.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 600,000 contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of more than 4,000 victims who have collectively reported over $20 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.
“We continue to see these aggressive tax scams across the country,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Scam artists specialize in being deceptive and fooling people. The IRS urges taxpayers to be extra cautious and think twice before answering suspicious phone calls, emails or letters.”
Scammers posing as IRS agents first targeted those they viewed as most vulnerable, such as older Americans, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. These criminals have expanded their net and are now targeting virtually anyone.
In a new variation, scammers alter what appears on your telephone caller ID to make it seem like they are with the IRS or another agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. They use fake names, titles and badge numbers. They use online resources to get your name, address and other details about your life to make the call sound official. They even go as far as copying official IRS letterhead for use in email or regular mail.
Brazen scammers will even provide their victims with directions to the nearest bank or business where the victim can obtain a means of payment such as a debit card. And in another new variation of these scams, con artists may then provide an actual IRS address where the victim can mail a receipt for the payment – all in an attempt to make the scheme look official.
The most common theme with these tricks seems to be fear. Scammers try to scare people into reacting immediately without taking a moment to think through what is actually happening.
These scam artists often angrily threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation or other similarly unpleasant things. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests, sometimes through “robo-calls,” via phone or email. The emails will often contain a fake IRS document with a telephone number or email address for your reply.
It is important to remember the official IRS website is IRS.gov. Taxpayers are urged not to be confused or misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. Taxpayers should never provide personal information, financial or otherwise, to suspicious websites or strangers calling out of the blue.
Below are five things scammers often do that the real IRS would never do:
The IRS will never:
• Angrily demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
• Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
• Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Here’s what you should do if you think you’re the target of an IRS impersonation scam:
• If you actually do owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
• If you know you don’t owe taxes or do not immediately believe that you do, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
• If you’ve been targeted by any scam, be sure to contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their FTC Compliant Assistant at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Moving Expense Deduction
If you move your home you may be able to deduct the cost of the move on your federal tax return next year. This may apply if you move to start a new job or to work at the same job in a new location. In order to deduct your moving expenses, your move must meet three requirements:
1. Your move must closely relate to the start of work. In most cases, you can consider moving expenses within one year of the date you start work at a new job location. Additional rules apply to this requirement.
2. Your move must meet the distance test. Your new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your prior job location. For example, let’s say that your old job was three miles from your old home. To meet this test, your new job must be at least 53 miles from your old home.
3. You must meet the time test. You must work full-time at your new job for at least 39 weeks the first year after the move. If you’re self-employed, you must also meet this test. In addition you must work full-time for a total of at least 78 weeks during the first two years at the new job site. If your tax return is due before you meet the time test, you can still claim the deduction if you expect to meet it.
See Publication 521, Moving Expenses, for more information about the rules.
If you qualify for this deduction, here are a few more tips from the IRS:
• Travel. You can deduct certain transportation and lodging expenses while moving. This applies to costs for yourself and other household members while moving from your old home to your new home. You may not deduct your travel meal costs.
• Household goods and utilities. You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and shipping your property. This may include the cost to store or insure the items while in transit. You can deduct the cost to disconnect or connect utilities at your old and new homes.
• Expenses you can’t deduct. You may not deduct:
o Any part of the purchase price of your new home.
o The cost of selling your home.
o The cost of breaking or entering into a lease.
See Publication 521for more examples.
• Reimbursed expenses. If your employer later pays you for the cost of a move that you deducted on your tax return, you may need to include the payment as income. You must report any taxable amount on your tax return in the year you get the payment.
• Address change. When you move, make sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Post Office. To notify the IRS, file Form 8822, Change of Address.
Premium Tax Credit – Changes in Circumstances. If you purchased health insurance coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may receive advance payments of the premium tax credit. It is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as when you move to a new address, to your Marketplace. Other changes that you should report include changes in your income, employment, family size, or eligibility for other coverage. Advance credit payments provide premium assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of premium assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.
Sleepless nights are the unfortunate reality when youre a parent. And nothing can help parents tossing and turning like thinking about how they must pay for their son or daughter’s college. For the very financially minded, this worry may arise as soon as you find out you’re expecting. Others may not start to worry until much later. No matter your child’s age, the staggering cost of college is likely to become a concern at some point. Consider this: a four-year education at a private college is on track to cost $323,900 by 2033. Might as well give up now, right? Wrong. You can build your child’s college fund slowly and steadily as you go from changing diapers to handing over the keys to the family car. The solution? A tax-deferred savings plan.
One of the most well-known college savings plans is the 529 savings plan. Aside from praying that you win the lottery or hoping your child becomes the next Mark Zuckerberg, 529 plans are a great way to incrementally save for college. Named after the section in the Internal Revenue Code, the 529 plan has been around since 1996. The government offers two types of 529 plans: college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans. With a college savings plan, you can use the funds at any college that’s accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. A prepaid tuition plan can only be used for undergraduate tuition at public colleges in your state.
529 plans offer some great benefits to whomever sets them up—parents, grandparents, or a generous aunt or uncle. Money saved can be used to pay for student tuition, any associated fees, textbooks, and room and board at accredited colleges and universities. Earnings in the 529 are not federally taxed, and generally not taxed at the state level when used for qualified education expenses of the designated beneficiary. And best of all, anyone can be named as a beneficiary — a son or daughter, a friend, even yourself. In Washington, DC, where Dan set up a DC College Savings Plan for his daughter, he can deduct up to $4,000 per year per plan ($8,000 total if he files jointly with his wife) on his DC return. In New York, where Lauren set up a plan for her son, she can deduct up to $5,000 per year on her state return (or $10,000 total if she files jointly with her husband). Unlike other investment plans (like Roth IRAs), 529 plans have no income restrictions on the contributor or the beneficiary. No limit exists to the number of plans you can set up, so have as many children as you want!
One note about 529 plans: If you already have one and your child will be attending school soon, be sure to request the money about two months before you need it to pay tuition, as it can take 4 to 6 weeks to get your money.
Coverdell Education Savings Account
A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) is similar to a 529 plan, tax-wise, with a few exceptions. Unlike a 529, which must be used to pay for college to avoid penalties, a Coverdell ESA can be used for education at any level and can be used for school uniforms, books and school supplies. However, you can only contribute a maximum contribution of $2,000 annually per beneficiary in all accounts in the beneficiary’s name. Additionally, this type of account is only available to those whose modified gross adjusted income is less than $110,000 ($220,000 if filing jointly).
Education Savings Bond Program
Bonds have fallen out of favor in recent years, but don’t count them out as part of your arsenal of savings options for college. Unlike 529 plans, the money is guaranteed. Also unlike 529 plans, bonds do not have as much opportunity for growth, so, they probably shouldn’t be your only savings program. Having a portion of your savings portfolio in bonds can be a good way to minimize any fluctuations in the stock market when you are ready to pay for college.
Shop Around for Loans
If your child will be starting college soon and your college savings plan doesn’t cover the cost of tuition and fees, be sure to shop around for loans. Some parent loans for college can carry interest rates of more than 7 percent!
While the prospect of paying college tuition is daunting, you can find a number of ways to save. If your kids will be starting college in roughly 17 years, like our respective daughter and son, start now. Who knows what tuition will look like by then? And even if you’ve got a college savings plan in place, it never hurts to buy a lottery ticket now and again. Just in case.
Daniel Bond, CAE, Senior Communications Manager-Consumer Education, American Institute of CPAs.
Lauren J. Sternberg, Communications Manager-American Institute of CPAs.
Five Tax Tips about Hobbies that Earn Income
Millions of people enjoy hobbies. They can also be a source of income. Some of these types of hobbies include stamp or coin collecting, craft making and horse breeding. You must report any income you get from a hobby on your tax return. How you report the income is different than how you report income from a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby. Here are five basic tax tips you should know if you get income from your hobby:
1. Business versus Hobby. A key feature of a business is that you do the activity to make a profit. This differs from a hobby that you may do for sport or recreation. There are nine factors to consider when you determine if you do the activity to make a profit. Make sure you base your decision on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. Refer to Publication 535, Business Expenses to learn more. You can also visit IRS.gov and type “not-for-profit” in the search box.
2. Allowable Hobby Deductions. You may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate. See Publication 535 for more on these rules.
3. Limits on Expenses. As a general rule, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of your hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct that loss from your other income.
4. How to Deduct Expenses. You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your costs may fall into three types of expenses. Special rules apply to each type. See Publication 535 for how you should report them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
5. Use IRS Free File. Hobby rules can be complex. IRS Free File can make filing your tax return easier. IRS Free File is available until Oct. 15. If you make $60,000 or less, you can use brand-name tax software. If you earn more, you can use Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms. You can only access Free File through IRS.gov.
You can get Publication 535 on IRS.gov/forms at any time.
Additional IRS Resources:
• Business or Hobby? Answer Has Implications for Deductions
• Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income
• Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions
• Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax
• IRC Section 183: Activities Not Engaged in For Profit (Audit Technique Guid
Review Your Taxes This Summer to Prevent a Surprise Next Spring
Each year, many people get a larger refund than they expected. Some find they owe a lot more tax than they thought they would. If this happened to you, review your situation to prevent another tax surprise. Did you marry? Have a child? Have a change in income? Some life events can have a major effect on your taxes. You can bring the tax you pay closer to the amount you owe. Here are some key IRS tips to help you come up with a plan of action:
• New Job. When you start a new job, you must fill out a Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate and give it to your employer. Your employer will use the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your pay. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov to help you fill out the form. This tool is easy to use and it’s available 24/7.
• Estimated Tax. If you earn income that is not subject to withholding you may need to pay estimated tax. This may include income such as self-employment, interest, dividends or rent. If you expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in tax, and meet other conditions, you may need to pay this tax. You normally pay it four times a year. Use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure the tax.
• Life Events. Check to see if you need to change your Form W-4 or change the amount of estimated tax you pay when certain life events take place. A change in your marital status, the birth of a child or buying a new home can change the amount of taxes you owe. In most cases, you can submit a new Form W–4 to your employer anytime.
• Changes in Circumstances. If you are receiving advance payments of the premium tax credit, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan. Advance payments of the premium tax credit help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.
For more see Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms at any time.