The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is well aware that it has a major issue. The IRS’s most current projections show a $441 billion tax deficit. (The tax gap is the difference between what the government believes it should collect and what it actually collects.) Some fraudsters neglect to record their income, while others claim write-offs they are not entitled to. For example, the government pays out billions of dollars in refundable earned income tax credits each year as a result of false claims.
Obviously, threats of civil and criminal penalties are insufficient to dissuade some people from cheating, so the IRS utilizes a variety of methods to track down these individuals.
- Threats of civil and criminal penalties are insufficient to dissuade some people from cheating, therefore the IRS utilizes a variety of methods to detect individuals who are evading taxes.
- It is thought that the IRS can monitor information such as medical records, credit card transactions, and other electronic data and that it uses this additional data to catch tax evaders.
- Although social media is unlikely to be the cause of the audit, it may be valuable to the IRS after inconsistencies are discovered in order to locate tax fraudsters and liars.
Computer Data Analysis
The IRS employs an Information Returns Processing (IRP) System to match information submitted to the IRS by employers and other third parties with what people declare on their tax returns. The matching is based on W-2s (reporting wages), 1099s (reporting interest, dividends, securities transactions, and non-employee remuneration), and Schedule K-1s reported to the IRS (reporting income and expenses from partnerships, S corporations, trusts, and estates).
Individuals who got this provided information are then tracked down by IRS computers to ensure that it has been recorded on their tax forms. Some omissions or errors made by people are unintentional; others, on the other hand, are the consequence of attempting to cheat on taxes.
Filters are also used by IRS computers to detect and prevent fraudulent refunds for the earned income tax credit (EITC).According to a study from the Treasury Inspector General for Taxation, the IRS was able to choose 217,000 bogus filings, claiming $500 million in earned income tax credits for 2013. According to the study, the IRS is pursuing “several ways to thwart bogus refundable EITC claims.”
IRS computers have advanced beyond just matching and sifting taxpayer information. It is thought that the IRS can monitor information such as medical records, credit card transactions, and other electronic data and that it uses this additional data to catch tax evaders. Surprisingly, the IRS does not disclose much information about this effort with the public, other than the fact that it is occurring.
While social media may aid the IRS in locating people who are evading taxes, there is no evidence that it has done so. However, it is always a good idea to think carefully about what you put online.
Your Social Media Footprint
IRS officers are most certainly utilizing social media to track down tax evaders. (Once again, the CIA has provided scant information regarding this effort.) Posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms might expose lifestyles that do not correspond to the amount of income stated on tax returns or the deductions claimed. A claimed deduction for a work trip, for example, may be a deception if the person exposes on social media that the trip was a family vacation.
Of course, without additional IRS information, how and when social media is utilized is mainly speculative. However, social media is unlikely to be the audit trigger (the IRS continues to rely on computer matching and other traditional ways to target individuals for audits).
The extent of IRS investigating individuals isn’t known.
- Is the agency investigating private e-mails? Remember that, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal law enforcement agency may read without a warrant any e-mails held on a third-party server for more than 180 days if they are pertinent to an investigation; the e-mails are deemed abandoned.
- Is the IRS investigating nonpublic social media postings? Even if the posts are damning, a person might be forced to release them.
A dissatisfied employee or a former spouse may inform the IRS about unreported income or other incorrect tax acts that might lead to the IRS recouping taxes. Some whistleblowers do it for vengeance, others because they think they are doing the right thing, and yet others for financial gain. For specific types of whistleblowing, the IRS will pay a reward of up to 30% of the government’s recovery:
- Mandatory award: 15% to 30% of the sum received by the government as a consequence of the tip from the informant. The disputed taxes, interest, and penalties must total more than $2 million. (To be notified, an individual’s gross income for the year in question must be more than $200,000.) An award might be appealed to the Tax Court by the informant.
- Discretionary reward: up to 15% of a total award of up to $10 million. This reward is discretionary and subject to IRS action if the requirements of the required award are not satisfied.
The Bottom Line
Every year, the IRS publicizes certain high-profile tax evaders in the goal of discouraging others from doing the same. (Teresa Giudice, who appears on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, began serving a 15-month jail term for tax fraud in January 2015.) The fact that budget cutbacks for IRS people will likely result in fewer audits of individuals does not indicate that cheating will be simpler since IRS computers and whistleblowers will continue to work.
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