News, insight and advice to keep you informed.
As part of the annual Dirty Dozen tax scams effort, the IRS and the Security Summit partners have urged taxpayers to be on the lookout for spearphishing emails. Through these emails, scammers try to steal client data, tax software preparation credentials and tax preparer identities with the goal of getting fraudulent tax refunds. These requests can range from an email that looks like it’s from a potential new client to a request targeting payroll and human resource departments asking for sensitive Form W-2 information.
Cyber Security Tips to Prevent Spearphishing
Spearphishing is a tailored phishing attempt to a specific organization or business and usually begins with a suspicious email that may appear as a tax preparation application or another e-service or platform. Some scammers will even use the IRS logo and claim something like “Action Required: Your account has now been put on hold.” Often these emails stress urgency and will ask tax pros or businesses to click on links to input or verify information.
How to prevent spearphishing:
- Never click suspicious links.
- Double check the requests with the original sender.
- Be vigilant year-round, not just during filing season.
The IRS and its Security Summit partners continue to see spearphishing attempts that impersonate a new potential client, known as the New Client scam. Lastly, taxpayers should never respond to tax-related phishing or spearfishing or click on the URL link. Instead, the scams should be reported by sending the email or a copy of the text/SMS as an attachment to [email protected].
The IRS added widely circulating promoter claims involving Employee Retention Credits (ERC) as a new entry in the annual Dirty Dozen list of tax scams. These promotions can be based on inaccurate information related to eligibility for and computation of the credit. Eligible taxpayers can claim the ERC on an original or amended employment tax return for qualified wages paid between March 13, 2020 through December 31, 2021.
“The aggressive marketing of these credits is deeply troubling and a major concern for the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel. “Businesses need to think twice before filing a claim for these credits. While the credit has provided a financial lifeline to millions of businesses, there are promoters misleading people and businesses into thinking they can claim these credits. People should remember the IRS is actively auditing and conducting criminal investigations related to these false claims. We urge honest taxpayers not to be caught up in these schemes,” he added.
Further, abusive ERC promotions highlight day one of the IRS annual Dirty Dozen campaign. These are a list of 12 scams and schemes that put taxpayers and the tax professional community at risk of losing money, personal information, data and more. Finally, more information can be found here.
Despite a significant number of challenges faced by taxpayers in 2022, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins has reason to be more optimistic for 2023.
“We have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Collins wrote in the 2022 annual NTA report to Congress, released on January 11, 2023. “I’m just not sure how much further we have to travel before we see sunlight.”
She highlighted three key areas that are providing a foundation for the optimistic outlook for this year:
- The IRS has largely worked through its backlog of unprocessed returns, though there still remains a high volume of suspended returns and correspondence;
- Congress has provided funding to increase customer service staffing; and
- The agency has already added 4,000 new customer service and is seeking to add 700 additional employees to provide in-person help at its Taxpayer Assistance Centers.
Collins did caution that while she is optimistic for the future, the near term will still be faced with challenges. In particular, she noted that while new staff are being trained, some of the issues that have been plaguing the IRS will continue.
“As new employees are added, they must be trained.” Collins noted. “For most jobs, IRS does not maintain a separate cadre of instructors. Instead, experienced employees must be pulled off their regular caseloads to provide the initial training and act as on-the-job instructors. In the short run, that may mean that fewer employees are assisting taxpayers, particularly experienced employees who are likely to be the most effective trainers.”
Taking into consideration the time needed to train new employees, some of the challenges from 2022 that were highlighted in the report could still be an issue early into 2023.
That could mean ongoing processing and refund delays. The COVID-19 pandemic created a significant backlog of unprocessed returns and while the IRS has made strides to reducing that backlog, as of December 23, 2022, the agency reported it still has a backlogged inventory of about 400,000 individual tax returns and about 1 million business tax returns. It could also mean ongoing delays in processing taxpayer correspondence and other cases in the Accounts Management function.
Another issue that could linger as more employees are being trained is getting a live person on the telephone. NTA reported that about one in eight calls from taxpayers to the agency made it through to a live person, with hold times for taxpayers averaged 29 minutes.
Tax professionals were able to get through to a live person about ever one in six calls to the Practitioner Priority Service, with about 25 minutes of hold time on average.
“Tax professionals are key to a successful tax administration,” Collins wrote. “The challenges of the past three filing seasons have pushed tax professionals to their limits, raising client doubts in their abilities and created a loss of trust in the system.”
The report makes a number of recommendations both to the IRS and legislative recommendations to strengthen taxpayer rights and improve tax administration.
To the IRS, Collins recommends a couple of employee-related items – hiring and training more human resource employees to manage the hiring of all agency employees and ensuring all IRS employees are well-trained to do their jobs.
On the IT front, she also recommended improvements to online account accessibility and functionality to make them comparable to private financial institutions’ online accounts, as well as temporarily expand the uses of the documentation upload tool or similar technology. Also, there was a call to enable all taxpayers to e-file their tax returns.
Among the legislative recommendations are amending the “lookback period” to allow tax refunds for certain taxpayers who took advantage of the postponed filing deadlines due to COVID-19; establish minimum standards for paid tax preparers; expand the U.S. Tax Court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate refund cases and assessable penalties; modify the requirement that written receipts acknowledge charitable contributions must predate the filing of a tax return; and make the Earned Income Tax Credit structure simpler.