Some Taxpayers Get Extensions without Asking; Taxpayers Abroad, in Combat Zones and Disaster Areas Qualify

WASHINGTON — Even though April 18 is the tax-filing deadline for most people, some taxpayers in special situations qualify for more time without having to ask for it, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Taxpayers in Presidentially-declared disaster areas, members of the military serving in a combat zone and Americans living and working abroad get extra time to both file their returns and pay any taxes due. Here are details on each of these special tax relief provisions.

Victims of Natural Disasters

Taxpayers in several disaster area localities qualify for more time to file their tax returns and pay any taxes due. Currently, taxpayers in parts of Georgia and Mississippi have until May 31, 2017, to file and pay, while those in parts of Louisiana have until June 30, 2017, to file and pay. These extensions also apply to other tax-related actions, including the deadline for contributing to an individual retirement arrangement (IRA). The IRS automatically provides extensions to anyone living in these areas so there’s no reason for these residents to contact the IRS to request an extension.

The IRS generally provides relief, including postponing filing and payment deadlines, to any area covered by a disaster declaration for individual assistance issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Among other things, this relief includes extensions for relief workers, disaster area businesses and anyone whose tax records are located in the disaster area. For details on available relief and information on how to take advantage of it, visit the Around the Nation page on IRS.gov.

Combat Zone Taxpayers

Members of the military and eligible support personnel serving in a combat zone have at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file their tax returns and pay any taxes due. This includes those serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zone localities. A complete list of designated combat zone localities can be found in Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, available on IRS.gov.

Combat zone extensions give affected taxpayers more time for a variety of other tax-related actions, including contributing to an IRA. Various circumstances affect the exact length of the extension available to any given taxpayer. Details, including examples illustrating how these extensions are calculated, can be found in the Extensions of Deadlines section in Publication 3.

Taxpayers Outside the United States

U.S. citizens and resident aliens who live and work outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico have until June 15, 2017, to file their 2016 returns and pay any taxes due. The special June 15 deadline also applies to members of the military, on duty outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico, who do not qualify for the longer combat zone extension. Be sure to attach a statement to the return explaining which of these situations applies.  Though taxpayers abroad get more time to pay, interest, currently at the rate of four percent per year, compounded daily, applies to any payment received after April 18. For more information about the special tax rules for U.S. taxpayers abroad, see Publication 54 on IRS.gov.

Everyone Else

Taxpayers who don’t qualify for any of these three special situations can still get more time to file, but they need to ask for it. Automatic extensions give people until Oct. 16, 2017, to file; tax payments are still due April 18, 2017.

An easy way to get the extra time to file is through the Free File link on IRS.gov. In a matter of minutes, anyone, regardless of income, can use this free service to electronically request an extension on Form 4868. To get the extension, taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and pay any amount due.

Another option for taxpayers is to pay electronically and get an extension of time to file. IRS will automatically process an extension when taxpayers select Form 4868 and they are making a full or partial federal tax payment using Direct Pay, Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or a debit or credit card by the April due date. There is no need to file a separate Form 4868 when making an electronic payment and indicating it is for an extension. Electronic payment options are available at IRS.gov/payments.

Tax Deadline Approaches; Nearly 40 Million to File Returns, Extensions by April 18

WASHINGTON — As the April 18 tax filing deadline approaches, the Internal Revenue Service reminded nearly 40 million taxpayers who have yet to file their tax returns that there are a variety of options to help them in the final days of the 2017 tax season.

The IRS has tax help, publications and information on IRS.gov to help last-minute filers, including information about free e-file options, such as FreeFile, or how to request an automatic six-month filing extension.  Additionally, IRS telephone lines will have a special Saturday opening on April 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., callers’ local time, to help taxpayers with last-minute issues.

“With the tax deadline approaching, taxpayers shouldn’t panic. The IRS has many options available to help people as they finalize their tax returns or if they need to get extra time to file,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

The IRS enters the busiest period of tax season this week, with millions of people planning to file. Through April 7, the IRS has processed more than 100.9 million tax returns and issued more than 80.2 million refunds totaling $228.9 billion. The average refund is $2,851.

Some other key numbers:

  • The IRS expects to receive about 18 million individual income tax returns for the week ending April 15, with about 16 million filed electronically.
  • On top of those 18 million tax returns, the IRS expects to receive another 12 million tax returns the following week.
  • The IRS expects to receive more than 8 million extension requests through next week, with the vast majority of those Forms 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, being filed electronically. Overall, this year, the IRS expects to receive 13 million extension requests from taxpayers.

Taxpayers can download, print and file a paper Form 4868 from IRS.gov/forms. The form must be mailed to the IRS with a postmark on or before April 18. Taxpayers are reminded that an extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay. Tax payments are due April 18. Submit an estimated tax payment with the Form 4868.

Make a Payment, Get an Extension

In addition to using Free File to get a filing extension, taxpayers can also get an extension by paying all or part of the estimated income tax due and indicate that the payment is for an extension using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or a credit or debit card. This way they won’t have to file a separate extension form and will receive a confirmation number for their records.

IRS Direct Pay offers individual taxpayers a free, secure way to pay an individual tax bill or estimated tax payment directly from a checking or savings account at no cost. No pre-registration is required and payments can be scheduled up to 30 days in advance.

By selecting “extension” as the reason for the payment, the IRS will also accept it as an extension – no need to separately file a Form 4868. In addition, any payment made with an extension request will reduce or eliminate interest and late-payment penalties that apply to payments made after April 18. The interest rate is currently four percent per year, compounded daily, and the late-payment penalty is normally 0.5 percent per month.

Taxpayers who changed tax software products this year may need their adjusted gross income (AGI) from their 2015 tax return to complete the e-file process. Those needing their AGI, should review the methods of obtaining a copy at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return. Taxpayers should keep a copy of tax returns and supporting documents.

“As we enter the final days before the tax deadline, the IRS has seen a strong filing season so far with smooth processing of tax returns and refunds as well as signs our strengthened security steps are helping prevent more tax-related identity theft,” said Koskinen.  “We appreciate taxpayers taking the time to file their tax returns accurately, and I also want to thank the nation’s tax community, tax professionals and our partners in the states for their critical role in helping make this filing season a smooth one.”  

States and Tax Industry Warn of Last-Minute Email Scams

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry today warned both tax professionals and taxpayers of last-minute phishing email scams, especially those requesting last-minute deposit changes for refunds or account updates.

As the 2017 tax filing season winds down to the April 18 deadline, tax-related scams of various sorts are at their peak. The IRS urged both tax professionals and taxpayers to be on guard against suspicious activity.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry, acting as the Security Summit, enacted many safeguards against identity theft for 2017, but cybercriminals are ever evolving and make use of sophisticated scams to trick people into divulging sensitive data.

For example, one new scam poses as taxpayers asking their tax preparer to make a last-minute change to their refund destination, often to a prepaid debit card. The IRS urges tax preparers to verbally reconfirm information with the client should they receive last-minute email request to change an address or direct deposit account for refunds.

The IRS also suggests that tax professionals change and strengthen their own email passwords to better protect their email accounts used to exchange sensitive data with clients.

This is also the time of year when taxpayers may see scam emails from their tax software provider or others asking them to update online accounts. Taxpayers should learn to recognize phishing emails, calls or texts that pose as familiar organizations such as banks, credit card companies, tax software providers or even the IRS. These ruses generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers.

Taxpayers who receive suspicious emails purporting to be from a tax software provider or from the IRS should forward them to phishing@irs.gov. Remember: never open an attachment or link from an unknown or suspicious source. It may infect your computer with malware or steal information. Also, the IRS does not send unsolicited emails or request sensitive data via email.

The Security Summit maintains a public awareness campaign for taxpayers – Taxes. Security. Together. – and an awareness campaign for tax professionals – Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself – as part of its effort to combat identity theft.

Get an Automatic Six More Months to File; Free File Now Available for Extensions

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service reminded taxpayers today that if they are unable to file their tax returns by this year’s April 18 deadline there is an easy, online option to get more time to complete their return.

The advice for those who cannot complete their tax return by April 18: Do not panic. Taxpayers who need more time to complete their return can request an automatic six-month extension. An extension allows for extra time to gather, prepare and file paperwork with the IRS, however, it does not extend the time to pay any tax due.

The fastest and easiest way to get an extension is through Free File on IRS.gov. Taxpayers can electronically request an extension on Form 4868. This service is free for everyone, regardless of income. Filing this form gives taxpayers until Oct. 16 to file their tax return. To get the extension, taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and should pay any amount due.

Other fast, free and easy ways to get an extension include using IRS Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or by paying with a credit or debit card. There is no need to file a separate Form 4868 extension request when making an electronic payment and indicating it is for an extension. The IRS will automatically count it as an extension.

Direct Pay is available online and on the IRS2Go app. It’s free, does not require preregistration and gives instant confirmation when taxpayers submit a payment. It also provides the option of scheduling a payment up to 30 days in advance. Taxpayers using a credit or debit card can pay online, by phone or with the IRS2Go app. The card processor charges a fee, but the IRS does not charge any fees for this service.

Besides Free File and electronic payments, taxpayers can request an extension through a paid tax preparer, by using tax-preparation software or by mailing in a paper Form 4868. Tax forms can be downloaded from IRS.gov/forms.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that a request for an extension provides extra time to file a tax return, but not extra time to pay any taxes owed. Payments are still due by the original deadline. Taxpayers should file even if they can’t pay the full amount. By filing either a regular return or requesting an extension by the April 18 filing deadline, they will avoid the late-filing penalty, which can be 10 times as costly as the penalty for not paying.

Taxpayers who pay as much as they can by the due date reduce the overall amount subject to penalty and interest charges. The interest rate is currently four percent per year, compounded daily. The late-filing penalty is generally five percent per month and the late-payment penalty is normally 0.5 percent per month.

The IRS will work with taxpayers who cannot pay the full amount of tax they owe. Other options to pay, such as getting a loan or paying by credit card may help resolve a tax debt. Most people can set up an installment agreement with the IRS using the Online Payment Agreement tool on IRS.gov.       

When the President makes a disaster area declaration, the IRS can postpone certain taxpayer deadlines for residents and businesses in the affected area. Taxpayers who are victims of a natural disaster may apply for automatic filing and payment relief. Taxpayers outside the covered disaster area but whose tax records required for filing or payment are located in a covered disaster area may also be eligible for this tax relief. Taxpayers who have been affected by recent severe weather should check Around the Nation on IRS.gov for disaster tax relief for their state.

Other taxpayers who get more time to file without having to ask for extensions include:

  • U.S. citizens and resident aliens who live and work outside of the United States and Puerto Rico get an automatic two-month extension to file their tax returns. They have until June 15 to file. However, tax payments are still due April 18.
  • Members of the military on duty outside the United States and Puerto Rico also receive an automatic two-month extension to file. Those serving in combat zones have up to180 days after they leave the combat zone to file returns and pay any taxes due. Details are available in the Armed Forces’ Tax Guide Publication 3.

This is the 10th in a series of 10 IRS tips called the Tax Time Guide. The tips are intended to help taxpayers as they get closer to the April 18 income tax filing deadline.

IRS Reminds Seniors to Remain on Alert to Phone Scams during Tax Season

grandma on phone .jpg

WASHINGTON – With the 2017 tax season underway, the IRS reminds seniors to remain alert to aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents. The callers claim to be IRS employees, but are not.

These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

The victims are told they owe money to the IRS and must pay it promptly through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are often threatened with arrest. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Alternately, victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the phone scammers often leave an “urgent” call-back request.

“The IRS warns seniors about these aggressive phone calls that can be frightening and intimidating. The IRS doesn't do business like that," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We urge seniors to safeguard their personal information at all times. Don't let the convincing tone of these scam calls lead you to provide personal or credit card information, potentially losing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Just hang up and avoid becoming a victim to these criminals‎."

In recent years, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams and fake IRS communication.

Later this spring, the only outside agencies authorized to contact taxpayers about their unpaid tax accounts will be one of the four authorized under the new private debt collection program. Even then, any affected taxpayer will be notified first by the IRS, not the private collection agency (PCA).

 The private debt collection program, authorized under a federal law enacted by Congress in 2015, enables designated contractors to collect tax payments on the government’s behalf. The program begins later this spring. The IRS will give taxpayers and their representative written notice when their account is being transferred to a private collection agency. The collection agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming this transfer.  Information contained in these letters will help taxpayers identify the tax amount owed and help ensure that future collection agency calls are legitimate.

The IRS reminds seniors this tax season that they can easily identify when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are four things the scammers often do but the IRS and its authorized PCAs will not do. Any one of these things is a telltale sign of a scam.

The IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.


If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues involving bills or refunds. The IRS will continue to keep taxpayers informed about scams and provide tips to protect them. The IRS encourages taxpayers to visit IRS.gov for information including the “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” page.

IRS Releases 100th eBook; Another Way for Taxpayers to Get Helpful Information throughout the Year

IR-2017-46, Feb. 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today unveiled its 100th eBook — a milestone in IRS efforts to share information to meet the changing needs of taxpayers.

The IRS eBooks effort, which began two years ago, offers an easy way to read and review some of the most commonly used IRS tax products. Through eBooks, taxpayers can view Form 1040 instructions, Publication 17 and other frequently used tax publications by using mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets and eReaders.

"This milestone reflects our continuing commitment to share information with taxpayers so they have the information they need in the way they prefer," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "Our eBook initiative makes it easier for taxpayers to access common publications, even if they’re using a mobile phone or tablet.”

The eBook format makes it much easier to navigate a publication, adjust the print size and add comments or bookmarks on mobile devices. It also provides accessibility for users who are visually impaired.

The complete list of all eBook publications is available at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/ebooks. Tax publications are also available on IRS.gov for free downloading in PDF and HTML versions.

Taxpayers can obtain federal tax forms and publications anytime. All IRS forms, instructions and publications are available on the IRS.gov website. In addition, tax products are generally available online six to eight weeks before paper products are distributed. To view and download tax products, use the ‘Forms and Pubs’ tab on IRS.gov.

Tax Time: Use Free File for Help with Tax Returns, Extensions and More

IR-2017-45, Feb. 27, 2017                                                                         Español

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded the millions of taxpayers who have yet to file their taxes that IRS Free File remains available either online at IRS.gov/FreeFile or through the mobile app, IRS2Go. The IRS2Go app is available for Android and iOS devices.

The IRS Free File service makes brand-name tax software products and electronic filing available to most taxpayers for free. Some products offer both free federal and free state return preparation.

The IRS has developed a series of tips, the Tax Time Guide, to help taxpayers navigate common tax issues as this year’s April 18 deadline approaches. This is the second in a series of 10 tips.

Taxpayers have the option to prepare their return at any time and schedule a tax payment as late as the April 18 deadline. Taxpayers who cannot meet the April tax filing deadline can also use IRS Free File to request an automatic six-month extension until Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.

Through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a group of 12 leading tax software companies make their branded products available for free. Since 2003, more than 49 million people have used IRS Free File, saving $1.4 billion based on a conservative $30 fee estimate.

Anyone who earned $64,000 or less last year qualifies to choose from among 12 software products. Those earning more than $64,000 can use IRS Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. The Fillable Forms option is best for people who are comfortable preparing their own tax returns.

More than 70 percent of all taxpayers — 107 million people plus — are eligible for the software products. Each of the 12 companies has its own special offers, generally based on age, income or state residency. Taxpayers can review each company offer or they can use a “Help Me” tool that will find the software for which they are eligible.

Active duty military personnel with incomes of $64,000 or less may use any IRS Free File software product of their choice without regard to the criteria. IRS Free File software does the hard work. It walks users through the tax preparation process, and helps identify those tax changes that may affect their return.

IRS Free File allows taxpayers to deposit all or part of their refunds into myRA, a free starter retirement savings account from the Treasury Department. Just use Form 8888 or follow the software product’s instructions.

IRS Free File will be available through Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, only through IRS.gov/FreeFile.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

March 1 Tax Deadline Nears for Many Farmers and Fishermen; IRS Direct Pay Offers an Easy Way to Pay Taxes

IR-2017-44, Feb. 24, 2017                                                                     Español

WASHINGTON ― The Internal Revenue Service is reminding farmers and fishermen about Wednesday’s deadline to take advantage of special rules that can allow them to forgo making quarterly estimated tax payments.

Taxpayers with income from farming or fishing have until Wednesday, March 1 to file their 2016 Form 1040 and pay the tax due to avoid making estimated tax payments. This rule generally applies if farming or fishing income was at least two-thirds of the total gross income in either the current or the preceding tax year.

Since 2014, IRS Direct Pay has offered individual taxpayers an easy way to quickly pay the tax amount due or make quarterly estimated tax payments directly from checking or savings accounts without any fees or pre-registration.

IRS Direct Pay is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be scheduled up to 30 days in advance. Last year, IRS Direct Pay received more than nine million tax payments from individual taxpayers totaling more than $31.6 billion.

When a taxpayer uses the tool they receive instant confirmation after they submit their payment. Direct Pay cannot be used to pay the federal highway use tax, payroll taxes or other business taxes.

Taxpayers who wish to pay their federal business taxes electronically should enroll in the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or visit IRS.gov/payments to check out other payment options.

Farmers and fishers choosing not to file by March 1 should have made an estimated tax payment by Jan. 17 to avoid a penalty.

Avoid the Rush: Be Prepared to Validate Identity if Calling the IRS

IR-2017-32, Feb. 14, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service said mid-February marks the agency’s busiest time of the year for telephone calls. The IRS is reminding taxpayers who have questions about their tax accounts to be prepared to validate their identity when speaking with an IRS assistor. This will help avoid the need for a repeat call.

The IRS recognizes the importance of protecting taxpayers’ identities. That’s why IRS call center assistors take great care to make certain that they only discuss personal information with the taxpayer or someone authorized to speak on the taxpayer’s behalf.

Customer service representatives can answer refund questions only after 21 days after the return was filed. Taxpayers should use “Where’s My Refund?” to track the status of their refund. Taxpayers who are e-filing their return and need their prior year adjusted gross income should use the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov. IRS telephone assistors cannot provide prior-year adjusted gross income over the phone for filing purposes.

Where’s My Refund?” will be updated on Feb. 18 for the vast majority of early filers who claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. Before Feb. 18, some taxpayers may see a projected date or an intermittent message that the IRS is processing their return.

By law, the IRS is required to hold EITC and ACTC refunds until Feb. 15. However, taxpayers may not see those refunds until the week of Feb. 27. Due to differing timeframes with financial institutions, weekends and the Presidents Day holiday, these refunds likely will not start arriving in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of Feb. 27 — if there are no processing issues with the tax return and the taxpayer chose direct deposit.

The IRS phone assistors do not have additional information on refund dates beyond what taxpayers have access to on "Where's My Refund?”. Given high call volumes, taxpayers should not call unless directed to do so by the refund tool. In addition, a common myth is that people can get their refund date earlier by ordering a tax transcript. There is no such "secret" option to find a refund date by calling the IRS or ordering a transcript; just check "Where's My Refund?" once a day. 

If Calling About a Personal Tax Account

Before calling about a personal tax account, have the following information handy:

  • Social Security numbers and birth dates for those listed on the tax return
  • An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for those without a Social Security number (SSN)
  • Filing status – Single, Head of Household, Married Filing Joint or Married Filing Separate
  • Prior-year tax return. The IRS may need to verify identity before answering certain questions
  • A copy of the tax return in question
  • Any letters or notices received from the IRS.

If Calling About a Letter 4883C

At this time of year, the IRS begins sending letters to taxpayers inquiring about suspicious tax returns it has identified. It’s important for the IRS and the taxpayer to confirm whether or not the taxpayer actually filed the return in question. Taxpayers have 30 days to call, which allows time to avoid the rush around Presidents’ Day.

To expedite the process when calling, taxpayers MUST have: 

  • The IRS letter  
  • Copy of prior year tax return (if filed)
  • Current year tax return (if filed)  
  • Any supporting documents for each year's return (such as W-2's, 1099's, Schedule C, Schedule F, etc.)

If Calling About Someone Else’s Account

IRS call center assistors will only speak with the taxpayer or their legally designated representative. Before calling, have the following information handy:

If Calling About a Deceased Taxpayer

Be prepared to fax:

To better serve taxpayers around the President’s Day holiday, the peak time of the year for telephone calls to the IRS, the IRS toll-free lines will be open Saturday, Feb. 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (callers’ local time) and Monday, Feb. 20, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (callers’ local time).

This tip is part of the IRS Avoid the Rush news release series designed to provide taxpayers with the information they need, when they need it. More details on this series, including information on additional online resources, are available on IRS.gov.

Falsely Inflating Refund Claims on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for 2017

IRS YouTube Videos:
Dirty Dozen
 – English | Spanish | ASL
Choose a Tax Preparer Wisely – English | Spanish | ASL

IR-2017-26, Feb. 8, 2017                                                                 Español

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to be alert to unscrupulous tax return preparers touting inflated tax refunds. This scam remains on the annual list of tax scams known as the “Dirty Dozen” for 2017.

"Exercise caution when a return preparer promises an extremely large refund or one based on credits or benefits you've never been able to claim before," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

The “Dirty Dozen,” an annual list compiled by the IRS, outlines common scams that taxpayers may encounter. These schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire others to help with their taxes.

Scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

Scam artists pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims by promising large federal tax refunds. They use flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts or word of mouth to attract victims. They may make presentations through community groups or churches.

Scammers frequently prey on people who do not have a filing requirement, such as those with low-income or the elderly. They also prey on non-English speakers, who may or may not have a filing requirement.

Con artists dupe people into making claims for fictitious rebates, benefits or tax credits. Or they file a false return in their client’s name, and the client never knows that a refund was paid.

Scam artists may also victimize those with a filing requirement and due a refund. They do this by promising larger refunds based on fake Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), among others.

Falsely Claiming Zero Wages

Filing a phony information return, such as a Form 1099 or W-2, is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes owed. The use of self-prepared, “corrected” or otherwise bogus forms that improperly report taxable income as zero is illegal. So is an attempt to submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a third-party payer to the IRS.

Some people also attempt fraud using false Form 1099 refund claims. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.

Taxpayers should resist the temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. The IRS is aware of this scam and the courts have consistently rejected attempts to use this tax dodge. Perpetrators receive significant penalties, imprisonment or both. Simply filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

The IRS sometimes hears about scams from victims complaining about losing their federal benefits, such as Social Security, veterans or low-income housing benefits. The loss of benefits comes as a result of false claims being filed with the IRS that provided incorrect income amounts.

Choose Tax Preparers Wisely

Honest tax preparers provide their customers a copy of the tax return they’ve prepared. Scam victims frequently are not given a copy of what was filed. Victims also report that the fraudulent refund is deposited into the scammer’s bank account. The scammers deduct a large “fee” before paying victims, a practice not used by legitimate tax preparers.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that they are legally responsible for what’s on their return even if it was prepared by someone else. Taxpayers who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.

Taxpayers can help protect themselves by doing a little homework before choosing a tax preparer. Start with the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications. This tool can help taxpayers find a tax return preparer with the right qualifications. The Directory is a searchable and sortable listing of preparers registered with the IRS. It includes the name, city, state and zip code of:

  • Attorneys
  • CPAs
  • Enrolled Agents
  • Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents
  • Enrolled Actuaries
  • Annual Filing Season Program participants

Also check the preparer’s history.  Ask the Better Business Bureau about disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. For CPAs, check with the State Board of Accountancy. For attorneys, check with the State Bar Association. For Enrolled Agents, go to IRS.gov and search for “verify enrolled agent status” or check the Directory

IRS, States and Tax Industry Renew Alert about Form W-2 Scam Targeting Payroll, Human Resource Departments

IR-2017-10, Jan. 25, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry today renewed their warning about an email scam that uses a corporate officer’s name to request employee Forms W-2 from company payroll or human resources departments.

This week, the IRS already has received new notifications that the email scam is making its way across the nation for a second time. The IRS urges company payroll officials to double check any executive-level or unusual requests for lists of Forms W-2 or Social Security number.

The W-2 scam first appeared last year. Cybercriminals tricked payroll and human resource officials into disclosing employee names, SSNs and income information. The thieves then attempted to file fraudulent tax returns for tax refunds.

This phishing variation is known as a “spoofing” e-mail. It will contain, for example, the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this variation, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office or human resource employee and requests a list of employees and information including SSNs.

The following are some of the details that may be contained in the emails:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2016 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.
  • Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).
  • I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2016, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.

Working together in the Security Summit, the IRS, states and tax industry have made progress in their fight against tax-related identity theft, cybercriminals are using more sophisticated tactics to try to steal even more data that will allow them to impersonate taxpayers.

The Security Summit supports a national taxpayer awareness campaign called “Taxes. Security. Together.” and a national tax professional awareness effort called “Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself.” These campaigns offer simple tips that can help make data more secure.

Updated Form 990-EZ; New Options to Help Exempt Organizations Avoid Errors, File a More Accurate Return

IR-2017-14, January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON — The IRS announced today the release of an updated Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, that will help tax-exempt organizations avoid common mistakes when filing their annual return.

The updated Form 990-EZ includes 29 “help” icons describing key information needed to complete many of the fields within the form. The icons also provide links to additional helpful information available on IRS.gov. These “pop-up” boxes share information to help small and mid-size exempt organizations avoid common mistakes when filling out the form and filing their return.

“We’ve been reviewing the areas of the form where exempt organizations encounter the most trouble,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “One out of three paper filers has an error on their form. After reviewing these trouble spots, we developed this new option to help groups navigate the form. This common-sense approach is designed to make it easier for exempt organizations to avoid problems up front – and avoid getting a follow-up contact from the IRS.” 

On the new form, the help icons are marked in boxes with a blue question mark. The icons and underlying links work on any device with Adobe Acrobat Reader and Internet access. Once completed, filers can print Form 990-EZ and mail it to the IRS.

Although many large exempt organizations are required to file Form 990-series information returns electronically, the IRS encourages all exempt organizations to consider filing electronically.

In 2016, the error rate for electronically-filed 990-EZ returns was only 1 percent, compared to the 33 percent error rate in paper-filed returns. In 2016, the IRS processed over 263,000 Forms 990-EZ, with the majority of the filings – 139,000 -- on paper.

A list of providers assisting with electronic filing is available on IRS.gov.

Exempt organizations should keep in mind that the new help icons do not replace the Form 990-EZ instructions. Filers should review the Form’s instructions when completing a return and use the help icons as an additional tool.

The IRS also reminds exempt organizations that Form 990-series returns are due on the 15th day of the fifth month after an organization’s tax year ends. Many organizations use the calendar year as their tax year, making May 15, 2017, the deadline to file for tax year 2016.