The IRS Urges Taxpayers to File Their Taxes in Order to Receive a Stimulus Check

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • The IRS is urging taxpayers to file as soon as possible in order to reap the benefits of this package.
  • If you have yet to file for your 2018 tax year, this could potentially affect your ability to receive a stimulus check. 
  • The IRS recommends that taxpayers file their tax returns as quickly as possible and that non-filers consider contacting a tax professional to assist them with their unfiled tax years.

The new stimulus package is meant to assist both taxpayers and businesses that have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. The package is meant to provide relief and aid to those that have been left without a paycheck, become unemployed, or are a business that has experienced a loss of customers.

In order to qualify for any compensation received from the stimulus package, you must have filed your taxes within the last two years.

The IRS is urging taxpayers to file as soon as possible in order to reap the benefits of this package. The IRS has notified taxpayers that in order to receive any potential credits or rebates, your 2018 and/or 2019 tax returns will need to be filed. If you have yet to file for your 2018 tax year, this could potentially affect your ability to receive a stimulus check. 

Once delinquent returns have been filed and a taxpayer is fully compliant, they are able to resolve any outstanding tax liabilities by either negotiating an installment agreement or inquiring with a tax professional to see if they qualify for an Offer in Compromise with the IRS in order to obtain a “Fresh Start.”

The IRS recommends that taxpayers file their tax returns as quickly as possible and that non-filers consider contacting a tax professional to assist them with their unfiled tax years.

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

By |My Money, News, Tax, Tax Planning, Tax Relief Solutions, Tax Returns|Comments Off on The IRS Urges Taxpayers to File Their Taxes in Order to Receive a Stimulus Check

What You Need to Know About the Covid-19 Stimulus Package

Updated on March 30, 2020

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that Americans that requested direct deposit on their tax return could expect their stimulus checks to be deposited directly into their bank account within three weeks.
  • If you filed a paper copy tax return or opted out of direct deposit, the government will send a check in the mail.
  • The following will not receive a stimulus check: children who are 17 or 18 years old, adults claimed as dependents, nonresident aliens, estates, individuals who earn more than $99,000 or married couples earning more than $189,000, and people who have not filed their 2018 and 2019 tax return.

Click here to learn more about the stimulus package.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • The White House and Senate leaders struck a deal to pass a $2 trillion virus stimulus package to assist struggling businesses and taxpayers.
  • Individuals who are earning $75,000 or less in adjusted gross income will receive a check for $1,200 while married couples earning up to $150,000 would receive a check for $2400 – and an additional $500 per child in their household.
  • The new deal also calls for a new pandemic unemployment assistance program to provide assistance to those who are unemployed, partially employed, or for those who are unable to work due to the virus outbreak.

On March 25, Senate leaders approved a $2 trillion stimulus package created to assist struggling businesses as well as taxpayers. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, many Americans have been left without jobs and businesses are unable to draw in any customers, causing an economic downturn. So what does the stimulus package mean for everyone, and how do you know if you qualify for the benefits and relief this package provides?

Under the stimulus package, individuals who are earning $75,000 or less in adjusted gross income will receive a check for $1,200 while married couples earning up to $150,000 would receive a check for $2400 – and an additional $500 per child in their household. If an individual makes more than $99,000 or if a couple makes more than $198,000 combined, they may not be eligible to receive a stimulus check. 

The bill also provides assistance to those who are currently unemployed by giving jobless workers an additional $600 a week for four months, on top of their state benefits. The new deal also calls for a new pandemic unemployment assistance program to provide assistance to those who are unemployed, partially employed, or for those who are unable to work due to the virus outbreak. This will include independent contractors and the self-employed who don’t typically qualify for this type of assistance.

The stimulus package will not only include provisions to assist people who have lost their jobs due to the outbreak, but also bail out large corporations that have been negatively impacted by the economic downfall. The bill will also support small businesses that face an existential threat due to measures taken to counter the virus outbreak. There are many new developments expected to be announced within the coming days, so make sure to monitor for updates on how the stimulus package can affect you. 

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

By |My Money, News, Tax Returns|Comments Off on What You Need to Know About the Covid-19 Stimulus Package

Will Covid-19 Affect the Tax Deadline this Year?

Updated on March 17, 2020

  • The IRS announced that it will be moving its national income tax filing day from April 15 to July 15 as part of an effort to provide taxpayers with financial relief during such difficult times given businesses are temporarily closing their doors to prevent further spread of the virus
  • Although a tax extension has been implemented, it is still encouraged that all taxpayers file their tax returns and pay their tax debt before the new deadline. 
  • Taxpayers will not be charged interest and penalties should they file the extension. 

Click here to learn more about how Covid-19 is affecting the tax deadline.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • President Trump has recently announced he would be extending the April 15 filing deadline for those that have contracted the virus
  • President Trump did not specify who specifically would qualify for a filing extension and for how long the extension would be for.
  • It is recommended that all healthy taxpayers file their taxes before the tax deadline.

Everyone is getting ready for tax season with the impending tax deadline right around the corner. However, with the new developments of Covid-19 affecting the general U.S. population and a potential quarantine looming around the corner, taxpayers are wondering how they will be able to get their taxes done. 

How Covid-19 may affect filing your taxes. President Trump has recently announced that because of the new developments and severity of the Covid-19 virus, he would be extending the April 15 filing deadline for those that have contracted the virus. Trump also stated that for those affected by the virus they would be able to defer paying their taxes by next month’s deadline.

What to be aware of when filing an extension. The IRS will most likely require proof for those that have contracted the virus should you choose to file a tax extension. In addition to this, President Trump did not specify who specifically would qualify for a filing extension and for how long the extension would be for. Several states have also extended their state tax filing for those affected by Covid-19.  You can click here to see which states have extended their tax deadlines.  

So what does this mean for those individuals who have not contracted the virus? It means that business is as usual for everyone else as of now. It is recommended that all healthy taxpayers file their taxes before the tax deadline and pay off any tax balance they may have in order to avoid accruing any additional penalties and interest. 

Tax season is almost at an end and it is vital to file your tax returns if you have yet to. It is also recommended to be on the lookout for further tax information regarding the Covid-19 virus and when you are able to file your tax extension should you qualify. 

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

By |News, Tax, Tax Planning, Tax Returns|Comments Off on Will Covid-19 Affect the Tax Deadline this Year?

What Happens when your Data is Breached?

A data breach or cyber hack could involve the loss of your personal information like your social security number, credit card numbers, bank account information, email address, and/or passwords. Having personal
information compromised could have serious repercussions and can hurt businesses and consumers in a number of different ways and can be a costly expense with the potential to damage lives and reputations.

With the severe levels of harm a data breach could cause, what can you do to prevent identity theft or having your personal information stolen? Hackers are looking for any opportunity to steal your personal data at any given time. They look for any weak spots you may have in your data security in order to breach your data and use your personal information against you. Here are some of the popular ways people’s accounts are hacked:

  • Weak passwords. It is important to ensure that you are utilizing complex and unique passwords for any accounts that may hold highly sensitive information. The weaker a password it, the more open you are to potentially get hacked. 
  • Unintentionally downloading a virus. You could accidentally download a virus or malware by downloading certain software you come across. 
  • Failure to keep your security software up to date. Always be sure to check that your firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software have all been updated in order to avoid a data breach. 

With so many ways for a stranger to access your personal information, it may seem as though there is no hope to prevent any fraudulent activity from occurring. There are in fact many ways you can avoid becoming the next victim of a data breach or a cyber hack. Here are a few ways that you can protect yourself:

  • Monitor your bank accounts. Check your accounts regularly to ensure that no unauthorized charges were made to your account. It is also important to double-check that no credit cards were opened in your name and to report any changes made without your consent.  
  • Utilize a credit monitoring tool. Utilizing software that monitors your credit could potentially (the rest of this sentence is missing)
  • Try not to overshare on social media. Avoid posting pictures showing you are away on vacation or when you’re not anywhere near your home. This could potentially lead to burglars breaking into your home and stealing your personal belongings, including sensitive and personal information. 
  • Protect your phone. ake sure that you always have a password on your phone to ensure that no one else can gain access. Having a password on your phone will stop any intruders from attempting to steal credit card or password information. 
  • Halt any suspicious activity immediately. If you see suspicious activity, don’t hesitate to contact your financial institution. It could also be beneficial for you to activate your alerts so you could be notified of any fraudulent occurrences. 

It is important to build your awareness of potential security breaches and cyber hacks to ensure you avoid being the next victim. Always be sure to keep yourself up to date on all security measures to ensure that your information is not vulnerable to theft of any kind. If you believe your information has been compromised or want to learn more about it, you can visit the IRS website.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

By |Credit Reports, My Money, News|Comments Off on What Happens when your Data is Breached?

New Consumer Warning Issued by the IRS Talks of Recent Surge in e-mail Schemes for 2016 Tax Season

Tax season is once again in full swing, and while that thought alone can be frightening to some, the renewed threat of scammers that are popping up recently is even more alarming. While tax schemes and phishing attempts have long been an unfortunate risk to citizens trying to do the right thing and stay on the “good side” of the IRS, this tax year has already seen a dramatic increase in their nefarious existence.

IRSPhishingThe Internal Revenue Service just released a warning to citizens to beware of suspicious emails after already seeing an approximate 400% increase in these phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season alone. These emails are designed to fool taxpayers into thinking that they are official written communication coming directly from the IRS or other tax authority representatives, including tax software companies.

“This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking emails into inboxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes. We urge people not to click on these emails.”

This year’s steep increase in this fraudulent activity has officials very concerned. They are not only using the traditional phone and email methods of communicating with would-be victims, but are also now reaching people via text messaging. The messages appear to be legitimate and ask taxpayers to provide a wide variety of information. Some requests inquire about filing status, requests to verify PIN information, or verification of refund information, while others seek to confirm personal information or even order official transcripts.

So what do fraudsters do with this information?

They can actually use the stolen information to be able to file false tax returns, amongst other things. When an unknowing victim clicks on one of these emails, they are redirected to websites that look very legitimate and often imitate official web pages like one might find at IRS.gov or on other real websites. These fraudulent sites then ask for social security numbers and other personal information that thieves can use to file false income tax returns.

Many of these sites also contain malware, which can infect your computer and allow criminals to access your files or obtain additional information, such as passwords and logins, by tracking your keystrokes.

According to the official news release, the IRS has seen an increase in reported phishing and malware schemes, including:scam-alert

  • There were 1,026 incidents reported in January, up from 254 a year earlier.
  • The trend continued in February, nearly doubling the reported number of incidents compared to a year ago. In all, 363 incidents were reported from Feb. 1-16, compared to the 201 incidents reported for the entire month of February 2015.
  • This year’s 1,389 incidents have already topped the 2014 yearly total of 1,361, and they are halfway to matching the 2015 total of 2,748.

As the email scams increase, the IRS is working with other leaders in the tax industry to find a resolution for this issue.

“While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers,” Koskinen said. “We continue to work cooperatively with our partners on this issue, and we have taken steps to strengthen our processing systems and fraud filters to watch for scam artists trying to use stolen information to file bogus tax returns.”Phishing_magnifying_glass_fi

One way the IRS, state revenue departments and other tax organizations are trying to protect taxpayers, is by providing them with as much knowledge of the situation as possible. Combining forces to form the “Taxes. Security. Together” campaign, they hope to educate consumers and help keep them away from these potential scammers that could cause financial devastation to many tax payers.

What should you do if you think you have received a phony or questionable email or text message from the IRS?

If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS e-services portal or an organization closely linked to the IRS, they are urged to report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

Recent email examples the IRS has seen include subject lines and underlying text referencing:

  • Numerous variations about people’s tax refund.
  • Update your filing details, which can include references to W-2.
  • Confirm your personal information.
  • Get my IP Pin.
  • Get my E-file Pin.
  • Order a transcript.
  • Complete your tax return information.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

To learn more about this latest warning, you can visit their website or call the IRS if you feel you have been a victim of these very crafty and cunning criminals.

IRS Completes the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2015

irs-says-phone-scams-continue-to-beThe Internal Revenue Service recently presented its list of the 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams with a warning to taxpayers about aggressive telephone scams continuing coast-to-coast. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts and word of mouth via community groups and churches to seek victims. Scams are especially common during tax filing season, but can occur any time of the year.

“We are doing everything we can to help taxpayers avoid scams as the tax season continues,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Whether it’s a phone scam or scheme to steal a taxpayer’s identity, there are simple steps to take to help stop these con artists. We urge taxpayers to visit IRS.gov for more information and to be wary of these dozen tax scams.”

The list below represents the list of this year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax-related scams:

Phone Scams

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by scam artists posing as IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. There has been a surge of these scams — threatening arrest, deportation, license revocation and other adverse consequences. The IRS reminds taxpayers that the IRS will never solicit personal information by email or by phone calls not initiated by taxpayers.

Phishing

The IRS never sends taxpayers unsolicited emails or refunds. If you receive such a message; it is almost certainly a scam. Taxpayers should be wary of clicking links contained in strange emails and websites. They may be attempts to steal your personal information.

UntitledIdentity Theft

Attempts at identity theft are especially common during tax filing season. A common tactic is filing fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. The IRS aggressively pursues identity theft attempts, but taxpayers must also practice due diligence in protecting their information.

Return Preparer Fraud

Return preparers are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. About 60% of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. Although the vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service, dishonest preparers set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams. Taxpayers must be wary of such bad actors.

Offshore Tax Avoidance

Offshore_Tax_Evasion_1_.54d100778feac

As the recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows, it’s a losing bet to attempt to shelter income and assets offshore. Taxpayers are best served by taking advantage of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) to get their federal income tax affairs in order.

Inflated Refund Claims

Taxpayers should be wary of preparers promising inflated refunds — especially before looking at their financial records, and refuse to sign blank returns. Taxpayers should also be wary of preparers who charge fees based on a percentage of the refund. For more information on selecting paid tax preparers, see the Choosing a Tax Professional page on IRS.gov.

Fake Charities173572251_Charity scam

Especially during the holiday season, taxpayers should be on guard against fake charitable organizations. Check out the group to ensure that hard-earned cash isn’t filtered into a sham operation BEFORE making a contribution. IRS.gov has tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. Be especially wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations.

Hiding Income with Fake Documents

The mere suggestion by paid preparers that taxpayers should falsify to reduce tax bills or inflate tax refunds is a huge red flag. The IRS reminds taxpayers who might be tempted to allow paid preparers to cut corners that they are legally responsible their returns regardless of who prepares them.

Abusive Tax Shelters

While the vast majority of taxpayers voluntarily pay their fair share, the IRS is committed to stopping abusive tax shelters and prosecuting the people who create and sell them. Taxpayers should be wary for tax breaks that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, seek an independent opinion regarding questionable offers before making a commitment.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits

Unscrupulous tax preparers sometimes persuade otherwise honest taxpayers to artificially inflate their income to erroneously claim tax credits. While taxpayers are entitled to take advantage of all legal tax breaks, avoiding questionable credits and deductions is the best policy in the long run. If the IRS discovers a discrepancy, the taxpayer is legally responsible, even if someone else preparedthe return.

tax_1557323c

Excessive Claims for Fuel Tax Credits

Unlike the mileage tax credit, the fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Nonetheless, the IRS routinely encounters unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim fuel tax credits to inflate their refunds.

Frivolous Tax Arguments

Taxpayers are entitled to present legitimate disputes about tax liabilities. However, despite routinely being thrown out of court, there are unscrupulous taxpayers who insist on making outlandish claims to avoid paying taxes they rightfully owe. The IRS reminds taxpayers who are tempted to file frivolous returns that the penalty for doing so is $5,000. Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr, where people can search “scam” to find scam-related posts.

Tax Scams: Just Don’t Do Ittax-fraud

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest for taxpayers, as well as possible criminal prosecution. Taxpayers should also remember that they are legally responsible for the content of their tax returns even if they are prepared by someone else. The IRS Criminal Investigation division works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute criminals who perpetrate tax scams.

IRS e-File Crash May Delay Some Refunds

If you’re planning to file your federal income tax returns in the hope of receiving an early refund, you might have to wait a day or two longer to receive your money. A hardware failure knocked several IRS.gov services offline February 3, 2016. According to a statement on the IRS.gov website, delays resulting from the outage are expected to be slight, and the agency still anticipates thatit will be able to process most refunds within normal time lines. The message that appeared on the IRS webpage read as follows:

statementThe outage itself was brief. As of February 4, the IRS.gov website displayed the following message on its Modernized e-File (MeF) Status Page: “The Modernized e-File Production and Assurance Testing Systems are now operational. Please resume sending federal and state submissions, sending state acknowledgements and retrieving federal and state acknowledgements. We thank you for your patience and apologize for the inconvenience.”

During the outage, taxpayers were instructed to continue to file their returns electronically through their e-file providers. However, providers were instructed to hold the returns rather than forward them to the IRS. The “Where’s My Refund?” service was also affected by the outage, but was also back online as of February 4.

freefileThis year, the IRS launched a new version of its FreeFile system, along with expanding eligibility to taxpayers earning $62,000 or less annually, an increase of $2,000 over the limit for last year’s returns. The system includes additional safeguards put into place to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing data breach in 2015, which exposed the information of more than 300,000 taxpayers nationwide.

The previous data breach was blamed on Russian hackers. However, a statement issued on the IRS website on Feb 3 did not name a source for the most recent crash, stating instead “the IRS is still assessing the scope of the outage.”

Taxpayers whose returns were filed before the February 3 outage were not affected, and should not re-file their returns.

ACA Increases Penalties for Uninsured Americans

Millions of previously uninsured Americans have obtained health insurance coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act – commonly known as Obamacare. However, many individuals and households remain uninsured. Many of those taxpayers face significant financial penalties from the IRS for failing to obtain insurance under the individual mandate of the ACA – unless they can claim an exemption.AffordableCareAct

The Penalty Wasn’t Really $95 

During 2014, the first year health insurance coverage was required under the ACA, many individuals chose to remain uninsured. They figured that paying $95 as a penalty for failing to obtain and maintain coverage would be far less expensive than the premium for any policy they could obtain. Many people experienced sticker shock when they realized how large their penalties would be.

That’s because the penalty for 2014 wasn’t $95. The actual penalty was $95 for each adult age 18 or over plus $47.50 for each child under 18, with a maximum penalty of $285 — or 1% of the total household income above the threshold for filing federal tax returns, whichever was larger. The maximum penalty for all households was capped at the national annual cost of an individual bronze tier insurance plan in 2014, which was $2,448, regardless of income and household size.

For example, the penalty for a single taxpayer who earned $45,000 in 2014 and remained uninsured for the entire year would be $348.50. That’s the result of subtracting the minimum income for being required to file a federal income tax return ($10,150 in 2014) from $45,000, for a result of $34,850, and then multiplying that figure by 1%. Ouch.

Penalty Increases for 2015 and 2016

afforadable-care-act-penaltiesIndividual mandate penalties for 2015 are even higher, increasing to $325 per adult plus $162.50 per child, for a maximum of $975 – or 2% of household income, whichever is larger. As in 2014, the maximum penalty for all households has been capped at the 2015 national annual cost of an individual bronze tier plan.

Remaining uninsured in 2016 will take an even bigger financial bite out of taxpayers’ pocketbooks. The penalty has been set for a hefty $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, with a maximum per household of $2,085 dollars. As an alternative, the penalty will be 2.5% of household income, with a maximum of the average annual premium of an individual Bronze tier health insurance plan sold through the marketplace. Taxpayers will pay whichever calculation results in the higher penalty.

Exemptions to the Individual Mandate Penalty

Taxpayers hoping to avoid the individual mandate penalty by obtaining health insurance coverage late in the year will most likely only be able to reduce the penalty rather than eliminate it. However, there are a number of exemptions based on personal circumstances and financial hardships that allow some taxpayers to avoid the penalty. To claim total or partial exemptions, taxpayers must file an application with Healthcare.gov. Taxpayers whose applications are approved receive an Electronic Confirmation Number (ECN) to claim the exemption on their federal income tax returns.

Personal Exemptionsexempt-tax-penalty

The list below represents an overview of personal exemptions to the individual mandate penalty. A full list of exemptions is available at Healthcare.gov.Unaffordable Coverage: Lowest-price Marketplace plans exceed 9.5% of adjusted gross income, or employer-provided healthcare plans exceed 8% of AGI.

  • Low Income: Individuals or households with incomes below the minimum threshold for filing federal income tax returns are automatically exempt.
  • Short Coverage Gap: Gaps in coverage of less than three consecutive months are exempt. Taxpayers who purchased coverage anytime during open enrollment in 2014 are also exempt; even they remained uninsured until May 1.
  • Religious Conscience: This exemption is administered through the Social Security Administration.
  • Health Care Sharing Ministry: Members of recognized health care sharing ministries are also exempt.
  • Citizens Living Abroad: U.S. citizens who reside abroad at least 330 days during a 12 month period are exempt.
  • Participants in AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA, or NCCC: Participants with short term program provided coverage or self-funded coverage are exempt.
  • Undocumented: Undocumented residents are not eligible to purchase insurance through the exchanges and are exempt from the penalty.affordable-care-act
  • Incarcerated: Incarcerated individuals are exempt.
  • Native Americans: Members of federally recognized tribes are exempt.

Hardship Exemptions

For most hardship exemptions, taxpayers must file supporting documentation; others are automatic. Some taxpayers who qualify for hardship exemptions may be allowed to purchase catastrophic health insurance policies; others may qualify for a special enrollment period outside of open enrollment. The list below briefly describes hardship exemptions along with required documentation. A complete description of hardship exemptions and relevant forms are available through Healthcare.gov.

hardship

Dealing with Penalties Now – and Avoiding Future Penalties

maxresdefaultThe best way to avoid the individual mandate penalty is to obtain health insurance coverage – either through the Marketplace, an employer or another health insurance plan that meets the minimum guidelines for the ACA. Many taxpayers who obtain insurance through the Marketplace are eligible for tax subsidies that significantly reduce premium payments or provide refundable tax credits. Other taxpayers will qualify for an additional cost-sharing subsidy that can be applied to Silver tier plans to lower the overall cost of deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

Individuals who have questions about their eligibility for tax credits, the individual mandate or any penalties they might owe can obtain assistance through Healthcare.gov.   Specially trained Navigators can also assist individuals one-on-one, either in person or over the phone, with selecting appropriate coverage. Taxpayers facing large individual mandate penalties should consult with an accountant or with an attorney specializing in tax law.

Data Breach: Tax-Related Information for Taxpayers

A data breach is the intentional or unintentional release or theft of secure information. It can be the improper disposal of personally identifiable information in the trash or a sophisticated cyber-attack on corporate computers by criminals. It can affect companies large or small.  The one common link is the victim, the person whose identity, financial or personal information has been compromised.

data-breachWhat You Should Know About Data Breaches

Tax-related identity theft is when someone uses your Social Security number to file a false tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Your tax account is most at risk if the data breach involves both your SSN and financial data, such as wages.

The Internal Revenue Service is committed to working with taxpayers to ensure that all tax accounts remain secure.  The IRS stops the vast majority of fraudulent tax returns.  If fraud is suspected, the IRS will contact you via mail with instructions.  However, some unfortunate taxpayers may discover they have been victimized by a data breach when they attempt to file electronically and have their returns rejected by the IRS as duplicates.

It’s important to note that not every data breach results in identity theft, and not every identity theft is tax-related identity theft.  Data breaches involving just credit card numbers, health records without SSNs or even driver’s  license numbers, while certainly serious, will not affect your federal or state tax return.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of a Data Breach

Determine what type of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been lost or stolen. It is important to know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps. For example, a stolen credit card number will not affect your IRS tax account.  Regardless of the nature of the breach, you should stay in touch with the company that lost your data. Companies sometimes offer special services, such as credit monitoring services, to assist victims. In addition, you should take the following steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission.

  • File a police report
  • File a complaint with the FTC
  • Notify at least one of the three major credit bureaus in writing — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion —  (preferably all three) to place a fraud alert on your credit file
  • Close any accounts opened without your permission

If you received IRS correspondence or your e-file tax return was rejected as a duplicate, take these additional steps with the IRS:

  • Submit an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit
  • File your tax return (most likely by paper) and attach Form 14039
  • Watch for any follow-up correspondence from the IRS and respond quickly.

Who Should File Form 14039?

Form 14039 — Identity Theft Affidavit should be used if your Social Security number has been compromised and IRS has informed you that you may be a victim of identity theft tax fraud or your e-file return was rejected as a duplicate. The fillable form is available at IRS.gov. Follow the instructions exactly. You can fax or mail it or submit it with your paper tax return if you have been prevented from filing because someone else has already filed a return using your SSN. You only need to file the form once. After the form is processed, you will receive a special number to use in place of your Social Security number to file your federal income tax returns.  This number can be used with electronic filing — but should only be used with your federal tax returns, not with your state tax returns.

Tax Fraud: How Do You Protect Yourself From Something You Don’t Know Exists?

You’ve always filed your income tax returns electronically in the past. Your returns were less vulnerable to calculation errors and you received your tax refund much quicker than you did filing paper returns. But this year, when you attempted to e-file your federal income tax return, the IRS rejected your submission, issuing a statement that a previously filed return using your Social Security number was already on file. How could such a thing happen?

Welcome to the world of identity theft, tax fraud style. Scammers filing falsified returns reap millions for their fraudulent efforts, spending the money from their ill-gotten gains long before the IRS – or their victims – become privy to the fact that a crime has even been committed. Many victims only learn that they’ve been targeted after receiving an audit notice from the IRS. In the meantime, fines, fees, penalties and interest from tax return fraud have accumulated, – and it’s largely up to victims to straighten out the mess.

tax fraud“Drops” and Bling

Ironically, the same e-filing system that cuts weeks from the time needed to process federal income tax returns and refunds also facilitates tax return fraud. Known as “drops” in many urban areas, this form of tax fraud identity theft involves using victims’ Social Security numbers, to file fraudulent electronic income tax returns claiming substantial tax refunds. This eliminates the need to attempt to forge victims’ physical signatures on paper tax returns.

Another ironic consequence of the dramatic rise in “drops” is a corresponding decline in street crime, particularly the drug trade. Many small-time drug dealers and even large volume drug traders find that executing “drops” is less legally hazardous, not to mention more lucrative. Another ironic consequence is a reduction in demand for assistance from food banks or even government food stamps: tax fraud artists don’t need the help. In fact, the expensive cars with pricey rims, the fancy clothes and the other “bling” flaunted by many tax fraud artists, fuels resentment amongst honest residents in low-income neighborhoods who struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis.

How Victims are Targeted

Have you ever provided your Social Security number to anyone? Then you are potentially a target for tax fraud identity theft. Many legitimate transactions: opening a bank account, applying for a mortgage or filling out a job application require individuals to supply Social Security Numbers. Unscrupulous employees harvest Social Security numbers from such transactions, which they use themselves or sell to the highest bidder. Tax fraud artists also comb death notices, create Trojan viruses or phishing email attempts or simply rummage through trash for the information they seek.

Funds from these fraudulent returns are commonly issued on proprietary debit cards issued by companies providing e-filing services, making it easy for fraud artists to access their ill-gotten gains. Paperwork backlogs and personnel shortages within the IRS exacerbate the issue. Especially during the busy tax filing season, the emphasis of the IRS is on processing returns and refunds as quickly as possible. By the time the IRS initiates inquires on questionable returns, money from fraudulently obtained refunds has often long since been spent.

Protecting Yourself from Tax Return Fraud

The best way to protect yourself from tax return fraud is by limiting access to your Social Security number. A bit of vigilance will protect you from many fraudulent attempts to obtain your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card unless you need to provide a copy for a job application or a similar purpose. Protect sensitive information on your computer by maintaining up-to-date antivirus and antispyware software and firewalls.

Think twice before responding to unsolicited “pre-approved credit” offers received online or in the mail. Never supply sensitive personal or financial information unless you have initiated the transaction or conversation – or unless you are 110 percent sure that the person on the phone or the website you’re dealing with is the real deal. If you receive questionable communication requesting (or demanding) sensitive financial or personal information from a company you’ve done business with, contact the company directly to check verify that it is indeed them requesting the information.

If you receive unsolicited email, social media or text messages claiming to be from the IRS, there is a 100 percent probability that they’re fake. The IRS only initiates communications with taxpayers by regular mail or by telephone – period. Do not respond directly to such communications in any way. Instead, report suspicious IRS-related communications to phishing@irs.gov or call 1-800-366-4484.

If You’ve Been Victimized by Tax Return Fraudtax_fraud

The first indication that you’ve been victimized by tax return fraud often comes in the form of an inquiry from the IRS about discrepancies in your return. You may be questioned about returns issued in your name which you never received or wages earned for companies you’ve never even heard of. You may also be assessed additional taxes or tax return offsets for years that you didn’t file a tax return at all. Another telltale sign is a notice from the IRS that multiple returns have been filed during a single year using your Social Security number.

Once you become aware that you’ve been targeted by tax return fraud, you must act quickly to limit the damage. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and a police report with your local law enforcement agency. Contact one or more of the three major credit reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax or Experian) to have a fraud alert placed on your credit report. Close any credit card or other accounts that have been compromised or opened without your knowledge. Also, check your earnings report annually with the Social Security Administration to endure that there is no fraudulent activity.

If your federal tax refund has been stolen or you have other unresolved tax-fraud related issues, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800)908-4490. You can protect yourself from further tax return fraud attempts by filing “Form 14039 – Identity Theft Affidavit” with the IRS. It’s likely that you’ll be required to file a paper return for the present tax year and it may take months to resolve your case, as well as restore any refunds to which you’re rightfully entitled.

However, the IRS will issue you a unique IP PIN that will replace your Social Security number and which will allow you to e-file future federal income tax returns safely. Do not use this IP PIN for any other reason – including state income tax returns.