Florida Man Charged with Violent Threats against IRS

There are some pretty fierce-sounding gangster names in the history of American white collar crime.  You’ve got your “Greasy Thumb,” your “Pistol Pete,” “The Butcher,” and “Big Tuna,” just to name a few.  I gotta believe that some of these guys imagined their thuggish names in print or revelled in the thought of becoming a household name.  But the latest tax criminal out of South Florida clearly didn’t give his nickname much thought.

“The Squirrel” borrowed an acquaintance’s phone to call the FBI and inform them that a nearby IRS building would “go up in smoke” in two hours.  The police traced the call to the phone’s owner who thought the perp’s name was “The Rabbit,” (obviously not a memorable enough name) but when he was found, he was quick to correct the authorities, telling them that his true moniker was actually The Squirrel (because that’s so much better, right?).  I can imagine him spelling it out for the FBI and making sure they got it right.  Maybe this is just me, but if I’m caught and I’m going to go through the trouble of correcting my thug name, I’m going to come up with something a little better than “Squirrel.”

And, although he did confess to placing that call to the FBI, the lawyer in me sees at least a couple harmless interpretations of the phrase “go up in smoke.”  Maybe he saw a vision of the place burning down and he called to warn them.  Maybe.  By the way, Florida seems to be a gathering place for not just anti-tax folks, but the serious IRS-haters and tax criminals.  I’m still not sure why.

If this article has inspired you to work on your own nickname, you might want to check out this gangsta name generator, although I personally have to question the results as mine came out “La Llorona,” which I think means “the crybaby” (feminine form).  Gangstaname.com generated a more accurate name, I think: “Machete Masta Crab Whacka.”

IRS Impersonation Scams More Prevelant Than Ever

TIGTA big shot, Timothy Camus, recently testified before the US Senate Finance Committee on the topic of “Tax Schemes and Scams.”  By TIGTA, I of course mean the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.  And by “big shot,” I of course mean that he is the Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, and he wears a nice looking mustache, and he tells tax criminals that their day will come.

According to his testimony, IRS phone impersonation scams have quickly become one of TIGTA’s top concerns.  The agency had received only scattered reports of phone scams prior to the summer of 2013.  TIGTA started to track this crime in October 2013, and ever since then has kept statistics and concentrated efforts on eradicating this terrible, frustrating crime.

The way it works is the scammers call and threaten you with criminal penalties if you don’t pay a certain sum to address a tax problem that usually doesn’t even exist.  The victim is asked to load money onto a prepaid debit card and then call back with the card number.  These criminals used to target primarily the elderly or recent immigrants; the most vulnerable people who do not have sufficient command of the English language and/or those who do not have an understanding of the US tax system.  But Camus says that they have not been discriminating much lately.  He describes having received a call himself, at home, the weekend before his speech, and he told the guy, “your day will come.”  I have received phone scam calls too, most recently a very generic sounding recording using robo-call technology.

Here are some of the key phone scam statistics from Camus’ Senate testimony:

  • TIGTA has received over 366,000 complaints of phone scam calls (9,000 – 12,000 per week)
  • 3,052 victims paid out about $15.5 million
  • one poor fool paid over $500,000
  • 296 of these victims gave more than just money (i.e., social security number or other sensitive identifying information)

Camus says that this scam is the subject of an “ongoing multi-agency investigation.”  Let’s hope they figure out how to catch these guys because the IRS public service messages about how to avoid phone scams aren’t working as effectively as they should.

Billionaire evades prison time for evading millions in taxes.

Back in September 2013, we reported that your Beanie Babies in the attic may become more valuable because Beanie Baby creator, Ty Warner, was facing charges for evading his federal taxes. Last week Judge Charles Kocoras “sentenced” billionaire (with a “B”) Warner to two-years probation and 500 hours of community service for his tax crimes.

The sentence, or lack-there-of, is actually a bit surprising. The government often seeks harsh punishment in high profile cases knowing that punishing the infamous will have a chilling effect on less substantial, but still costly, tax crimes committed by regular citizens. Judge Kocoras rejected such punishment in this case based on Warner’s “good works” in society.

Warner pleaded  guilty to tax evasion and paid a civil penalty of $53.6 million for failing to report$3.2 million in income on a secret Swiss bank account that held as much as $93.6 million in assets. Unfortunately for Warner, he attempted to avoid prosecution and take advantage of one of the government’s many offshore voluntary disclosure amnesty programs, but was denied tax relief. In addition to the civil penalty already paid by Warner, Judge Kocoras fined Warner an additional $100,000.

I was actually looking forward to the tax evasion Beanie Baby. However, now we’ll probably have a reincarnation of the fad, and all its versions, so Warner can pay his fines.

EIN Refund Fraud

Tax Refund Fraud.  We’ve seen this happening across the nation in a variety of communities.  The fraudster demographic is also quite diverse: some perpetrators are operating from within experienced fraud rings, some are regular street criminals (or inmates), some are even IRS insiders.

Most people are probably aware of individual refund fraud, which involves the filing of a false tax return using a stolen Social Security Number in hopes of obtaining a refund.  Many of these schemes are built upon the idea that the IRS doesn’t bat an eye if the requested refund is small enough.  And fraudsters can get pretty rich if they file in bulk.

But did you know that the same thing is happening with EIN numbers?  An Employer Identification Number is used to identify business accounts.  People steal them and obtain them fraudulently just like they do with social security numbers.  The statistics are staggering: “277,624 stolen EINs used to report false income and withholding on 752,656 tax returns with potentially fraudulent refunds issued totaling more than $2.2 billion” (2011 numbers).  The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a report this week asking the IRS to do more to prevent EIN refund fraud.

Introducing the tax evasion beanie baby

This week, the creator of the Beanie Baby toy phenomenon, Ty Warner, was charged with tax evasion. The charges allege that Warner committed tax crimes on his 2002 tax return by failing to report $3.2 million in income on a secret Swiss bank account that held as much as $93.6 million in assets. The federal government alleges that Warner falsely reported his 2002 income as $49.1 million, omitting money he made on his UBS account. He amended his 2002 return in 2007, yet it is alleged that he again understated his tax by $885,300.  In 2009, Warner tried to avoid prosecution by taking advantage of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) amnesty program known as the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. According to Warner’s tax attorney, the IRS denied amnesty to Warner.

Warner is expected to plead guilty as part of a plea agreement and will pay a civil penalty of $53.6 million for failing to file a required Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). Warner is not the first UBS client to be prosecuted for tax crimes. Since 2009, the United States has prosecuted approximately 70 taxpayers, 30 bankers, lawyers and advisers in a crackdown on offshore tax evasion. I wonder if this is the time to sell those Beanie Babies I have in the attic.

You’re not paranoid if you think you’re being targeted by the IRS for tax purposes.

According to CBS and Reuters, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is expected to publish an investigative report this week detailing that Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents specifically targeted conservative groups for review and consideration of their tax exempt status.

According to Reuters, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, Lois Lerner apologized Friday for what she called the “inappropriate” targeting of conservative groups for closer scrutiny, something the agency had long denied. She said the screening practice was confined to an IRS office in Cincinnati; that it was “absolutely not” influenced by the Obama administration; and that none of the targeted groups were denied tax-free status.

The TIGTA findings detail that the names and purposes of groups were used to scrutinize applications. Name scrutiny included organizations such as Tea Party, Patriot, and 9/12. Scrutiny was also being improperly given to references to government spending, government debt, taxes, education of the public via advocacy/lobbying to make America a better place to live; and statements that criticize how the country is being run.

IRS employees are presently prohibited from targeting anyone for their political or religious beliefs. However, under current law such conduct would only be grounds for termination. Wasting no time to ride the coattails of a juicy scandal, Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio already unveiled a bill to make such actions a felony. Considering that nobody seems to know anything in these types of cases, and that the portions of the report available so far appears to be no different, it will be interesting if anyone is ever prosecuted criminally if the bill were to pass.

Is Your Online Imprint Going to Trigger an IRS Audit?

In mid-April I noticed a rather innocuous news release on the IRS website in regards to some type of email policy. If it wasn’t so cryptic and fraught with legal positioning, I would probably have considered it with the same drab spun by the IRS press cycle on a daily basis. However, the statement was so obtuse, it required at least a Google search or two to decipher the precipitous for the need to publically proclaim their position on email surveillance.

Here’s the IRS statement from April 18, 2013:

“Where the IRS already has an active criminal investigation and seeks to obtain the content of emails from an Internet Service Provider, we obtain a court ordered search warrant. It is not the IRS policy to seek the content of emails from ISPs in civil cases. Respecting taxpayer rights and taxpayer privacy are cornerstone principles for the IRS. Our job is to administer the nation’s tax laws, and we do so in a way that follows the law and treats taxpayers with respect. However, to resolve any remaining confusion surrounding this issue, the IRS is reviewing its policy and guidance and will make appropriate updates.”

I don’t have a crystal ball or a microphone in the IRS headquarters, but I believe the precipitous for the statement was damage control based on numerous news stories circulating recently that the IRS was beginning to use more than the standard tax disclosures to catch you in a tax lie. It was reported that the IRS was acquiring personal information on taxpayers’ online activities, from eBay auctions, Facebook posts, credit card transaction records, and e-payment transaction records, to verify the information reported (or not reported) on your tax return.

It was reported that the new online surveillance policy was precipitated because the IRS is under heavy pressure to help the federal government out of its budget crisis by chasing down revenue lost to evasions and errors each year. According to Edward Zelinsky, a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Yale Law School. “I am sure people will be concerned about the use of personal information on databases in government, and those concerns are well-taken. It’s appropriate to watch it carefully. There should be safeguards.” He adds that taxpayers should know that whatever people do and say electronically can and will be used against them in IRS enforcement. Be warned.

It is alleged that the IRS is going a step beyond law enforcement agencies that use openly displayed social media information such as twitter, facebook, and instagram to prove illegal activity by asserting there is no right to privacy in personal correspondence via email, facebook chats, twitters direct messages, and similar non-public online communications.

According to a blog post by Nathan Wessler on the ACLU’s blog, even though judges are holding that people’s emails are private communications (most notably in United States v. Warshak, a 2010 decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals), the IRS is going its own way on the matter, claiming that Americans have no privacy rights in any correspondence sent via the internet, so that the IRS has no obligation to get search warrants. It was the policy of the IRS to read people’s email without getting a warrant. Not only that, but the IRS believed that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to email at all. A 2009 “Search Warrant Handbook” from the IRS Criminal Tax Division’s Office of Chief Counsel baldly asserts that “the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server, because internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.” Again in 2010, a presentation by the IRS Office of Chief Counsel asserts that the “4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server” and there is “No Privacy Expectation” in those emails.

I suppose the end result for me on this issue is the portion of the statement that reads: “It is not the IRS policy to seek the content of emails from ISPs in civil cases.” In my dealings with the IRS in non-criminal cases, policy has no president or consideration in a collection case. Therefore, you should consider your online footprint a fishbowl for IRS audit fodder.

Tax Protestors: Keep your Distance

Tax protestors typically turn to a handful of “canned” arguments regarding the government’s lack of authority to levee taxes.  These arguments are typically not very successful.  When tax protestors refuse to pay taxes based on these flawed legal positions, they are typically hit with a barrage of penalties and interest on top of their tax debt, and some even do prison time.  But tax protestors who are also former IRS agents? — not very typical.

That’s what makes the story of Sherry Peel Jackson so interesting.  She worked for seven years as an IRS revenue agent, then she went into private practice as a CPA, then she spent four years in prison for failure to file tax returns, and now she tours around promoting the books she wrote in prison about the illegalities of income taxes.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that taxes are illegal.  You will want to avoid these people like the plague.  The tax protestor groups are a sham and can cause you some serious tax problems.

The Dangers of the Split Refund Option

TIGTA has sniffed out another serious IRS problem.  The latest TIGTA report expresses Treasury’s concern with the administration of direct deposit refunds by the IRS.  More taxpayers than ever are taking advantage of this option because it is the most convenient and fast way to get your refund.  But this also happens to be the way many tax refund crimes are perpetrated:

Direct deposit is frequently the payment method used by individuals who attempt to commit filing fraud. Direct deposit provides the ability to quickly receive fraudulent tax refunds without the difficulty of having to negotiate a tax refund paper check. To cash a check, individuals usually have to provide picture identification matching the name on the tax refund check

~ TIGTA Report No. 2012-40-118

Specifically, the concern addressed in this report has to do with the splitting up of deposits into multiple accounts.  The IRS allows refund recipients to specify that the funds be deposited into one, two, or three accounts if they so indicate on Form 8888.  However, this option often invites foul play.  As a way of measuring the magnitude of the problem, TIGTA counted the number of times multiple refunds were deposited into the same accounts.  This method isn’t exactly perfect because there are harmless reasons for multiple deposits, such as in the case of joint bank accounts.   However, even ruling out these benign cases, TIGTA is finding that tax cheats are abusing the split refund deposit option.  For example, some tax preparers are illegally diverting funds to their own accounts to cover their tax help and return preparation expenses.