Update from the Virginia Tax Department

(h/t to my colleague, David A. Lawrence, Esq. who recently attended the Annual Virginia Tax Roundtable and provided the summary below.  The Roundtable hears from the Virginia Tax Commissioner, his staff, the Virginia Attorney General’s staff, local Commissioners of Revenue and a U.S. Tax Court Judge about current issues and ways to improve tax administration in Virginia.)

Identity Theft – Refund Fraud Dramatically Rising
Identity theft and refund fraud continue to rise dramatically in Virginia & other states. Over $54 million in 2015 & 2016 of refund fraud was caught in Virginia before the state issued the fraudulent refund checks. It’s taking a significant amount of Tax Department resources and time to review more refund returns, collaborate with other states & the IRS, and match data before letting refund checks go out. It sounds like people should continue to try to file their returns as early as possible before others attempt to file fraudulent claims, using information they can find out about you. It seems that federal agency employees who are slow to get their W-2s are at a greater risk for fraud claims.

Staffing Changes & Budget Cuts continue at State & Local Tax Levels
For several years in a row, many long-time employees of state & local tax offices continue to retire. The government is trying to replace the loss of institutional memory with newbies and technology. But continued budget cuts are hitting technology upgrades & the ability to make some new hires.

Tax Appeals
Appeals of tax cases – particularly income tax – continue to increase 3 years in a row, while sales tax decisions are down significantly in Virginia. But with strained staff, it’s taking a lot longer for appeals to be completed. If a taxpayer doesn’t fully document the appeal, then the Tax Commissioner is dismissing the appeal – so don’t be sloppy out there. Local tax appeals continue to drop – it appears the Tax Department doesn’t like dealing with local tax appeals & the localities don’t like being told they’re wrong by the Tax Department.

Updating Tax Regs; Little Tax Legislation
The Tax Department is in the process of updating its Regulations, especially any which are over 4 years old. Based on the few inquiries from the General Assembly, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of new tax legislation expected this coming legislative session.

Local Taxes Being Pursued
Local tax offices are getting much more active in capturing tax revenue, and using more technology to find taxpayer nexus and tax it. Restaurants are big targets for meals & sales taxes; as well as their owners & managers who are pursued on a responsible officer type of liability. Large businesses, especially multi-state ones, are filing 1-3 years back refund claims. Localities are complaining that those claims are hitting the locality’s budget, and thus are fighting the refunds, making the taxpayers work at those claims. Local tax collectors are documenting their defense, expecting tax appeals. So the taxpayers had better document their claims and arguments as well.

US Tax Court Practice Tips
Beginning in 2017, the Tax Court will have electronic filing.  Other practical suggestions were offered involving pretrial memoranda, stipulating facts, objections to IRS experts and post-trial briefs. 

As tax season is upon us, if you have questions regarding your taxes, please feel free to reach out to your professional advisor.  #taxplanning #estateplanning #taxseasonishere @bgnthebgn

The IRS and Its “Dirty Dozen”

Last week I passed along a few tales of identity theft and phone scams involving the IRS.  The IRS also annually posts a list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams that may impact you or for which they look when reviewing tax returns. Number 1 on the list was identity theft and number 2 centered around phone scams.  As you can see, fraud and identity theft involving the IRS is becoming more common and you need to be aware of the most likely scams.  Moreover, the threat has increased now that it has been revealed that the recent IRS hack will impact many, many more taxpayers.  Be sure to talk to your professional advisors about possible ways to protect yourself.  #identitytheft #IRShacked #taxfraud #dirtydozen #protectyourself

Identity Theft and the IRS

Many of you may have seen that the IRS was hacked again recently and personal data was compromised.  My partner, Wayne Zell, was one such victim and he recently blogged about his arduous experience of proving who he was to the IRS once he received a letter from them.

Unfortunately, his experience is becoming all too common. Another partner, Eric Horvitz, also recently had an experience in which he received robot calls on his cell phone supposedly from the IRS telling him that he would be sued within days unless he returned the call. Although Eric knew it was a scam, he was curious and returned the call using his office phone and was asked to provide personal information. Once the person on the other end of the line knew that Eric understood this was a scam, the person hung up. Eric then provided the following valuable reminders:

  1. The IRS will never initially contact you by phone.  You will first receive a letter.  If you paid all of your taxes for a prior tax year, then a legitimate letter from the IRS likely will say that your tax return is being audited in some fashion.  If you did not pay all of your taxes for a prior tax year, then a legitimate letter from the IRS likely will be a bill that requests payment.  Your failure to address an initial IRS letter in a timely fashion will result with a follow up letter from the IRS in some fashion.

  2. If after receiving a letter (or likely letters) from the IRS, the IRS does call you. The IRS employee always will provide his name and should give his IRS employee number.  Ask what office the IRS is calling you from and later verify that the given IRS office does exist.  A legitimate phone call from the IRS likely means that you have ignored all prior letters from the IRS.  The person calling you likely is either a “revenue agent” – the IRS employee who will audit your return – or a “revenue officer” – the IRS employee who will demand payment.

  3. The IRS will never call you threatening to sue you.  Again, you always will get some sort of letter in the mail.

  4. Never call these scam artists back.  They are out to get your personal information in any way and your money.  Simply by calling them back on the telephone number on which they called you will give them a source of information with which they can steal your identity.

  5. The IRS neither asks nor requires you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card – the 21st century version of cash — which likely will have no origin through the banking system.

  6. The IRS will never threaten that the “police” will arrest you.  The IRS does have its own police officers.  They are called “special agents.”  If you are contacted by a special agent, then you likely will know why the IRS has contacted you.  In that case, tell the special agent to have a nice day and also tell him that your attorney will contact the special agent.  Then, get an attorney.  You will need one.

As if matters are not already difficult when dealing with the theft of your own identity, for those who have recently lost loved ones and are having to deal with filing final tax returns, the process has become even more complex because of the amount of identity fraud. It is not uncommon for a fraudulent tax return to be filed using a deceased person’s social security number that claims any refund. Usually, executors do not know it has happened until they go to file the final tax return and their filing is rejected.

The process for undoing the damage of the stolen identity can and will take months to resolve. Because there has been so much fraud, the IRS has started responding to requests for information about a deceased’s person’s tax returns with a letter indicating that they will not provide any such information until the executor (or perhaps the CPA or attorney) calls and proves the executor has authority to ask for and receive the tax information.  The call alone can take hours with you just sitting on hold.

There are ways that you can notify the IRS of your authority as an executor through particular IRS forms that are filed with the IRS. An experienced estate and trust administration attorney or CPA can guide you through that process and help complete the forms and get them filed in the proper order. The hope in submitting the IRS forms is that you can avoid hours lost on hold with the IRS and prevent fraudulent filings that create stress during any already stressful time after a loved one has died.

Ultimately, whether you are having to deal with identity theft or fraud involving the IRS at a personal level or as an executor, you should consider speaking with a tax professional, such as a CPA or an attorney. #taxplanning #identitytheft #IRSfraud #estateadministration