Under IRS Investigation – Offshore Accounts or Assets | Foreign Income
Unfortunately, oftentimes when the IRS is pursuing a criminal investigation against an individual, they may be very far into the investigation before the person has any idea they are being investigated.
This is not intended to scare you, but rather to ensure you understand what some of the ramifications (and signs) may be that you become the subject of an IRS criminal investigation.
IRS Focuses on Offshore Money
Since the IRS is understaffed and under-budgeted, they need to focus their efforts in places where they can get the best bang for the buck — and typically, this means offshore enforcement.
Offshore tax scams, tax schemes, and tax havens have been a mainstay to the IRS dirty dozen list. In addition, over the last 10 years there has been numerous programs developed to pursue enforcement against foreign financial institutions and facilitators offshore who have violated US Tax Law.
When it comes to FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), more than 110 countries and 300,000 foreign financial institutions have already agreed to comply with the U.S. FATCA Law. Moreover, as recently released by the national taxpayer Advocate in January of 2018, penalties issued for unreported foreign corporations, partnerships and trusts have skyrocketed — while the percentage of individuals having the penalties abated (reduced) has decreased (in other words, the penalties are sticking more and being waived less)
International Tax Enforcement Group
The IRS is so serious about offshore enforcement, that the recently enacted their own International Tax Enforcement Group at the end of 2017 which is designed exclusively to focus on developing and pursuing international tax investigations.
Unlike years past, the IRS has a broad range of resources to pull information regarding offshore investments, foreign bank accounts, investment accounts, etc.. Moreover, due to increase cooperation of many of these foreign countries and financial institutions under FATCA, it is becoming much easier for the IRS to obtain information — without having to expend additional resources to do so.
IRS Audit or Examination
Is important to note that there is a distinction between an IRS audit/examination in a criminal investigation. Typically, an IRS audit or examination is nothing major. Aside from an eggshell audit or reverse eggshell audit, an IRS audit is just the IRS’ way of evaluating your tax situation to determine if everything you did was in compliance.
It could be a simple as you forgot to report one of your 1099s, or took a legal, but strong tax position and now the IRS wants to take you to task – usually nothing major to worry about.
IRS Criminal Investigation
An IRS criminal investigation is entirely different. The IRS does not engage in nearly as many IRS criminal investigations as it does regular audits or examinations. In other words, once a person is being criminally investigated by the IRS, it means the IRS believes it has some teeth on the issue involving the person being investigated and something illegal. And, in recent years, these criminal investigations have focused on Offshore or Foreign Income and Accounts (aka Money Abroad, Money Overseas, etc.)
That is not say just because you are under an IRS criminal investigation involving offshore or foreign money, that the IRS is going to pursue criminal charges. It just means you need to be very careful.
How Do You Know You Are Being Investigated?
Sometimes the IRS was to keep the investigation quiet, so they arevery careful in sending subpoenas and summons to various individuals, or institutions without providing any other investigation to let you that you are under investigation.
Conversely, sometimes the IRS want you to be aware that you are under investigation to track your movements and see how you respond (aka so the IRS can follow you, follow the money)
IRS Increases Offshore Investigations
It is becoming more and more clear that the IRS, Department of Justice and the U.S. Government as a whole have made Federal Tax Crimes involving Tax Evasion and Tax Fraud that involve Foreign Income and Offshore Accounts a key enforcement priority.
Typical IRS Criminal Tax Investigations include:
- Offshore Tax Evasion
- Offshore Tax Fraud
- Offshore Money Laundering
- Offshore Structuring
If you committed one of these types of Offshore Tax Crimes and are audited by the IRS, you have to be very careful. That is because you may not know the extent of the information the IRS already has against you, which may lead to a referral to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the IRS.
Moreover, when an IRS Audit ends and depending on the strategies or tactics used by the specific agent who examined you,an IRS Investigation or inquiry by the IRS Fraud Division may start before you even know it.
The following is a brief summary of the common key tactics the IRS may use in trying to build a case against you, and/or moving your civil audit to a criminal investigation.
Contacting Your Bank Manager
It is safe to say the IRS would have no legitimate reason for speaking with the manager at the bank that you currently use, unless the IRS is trying to build a case against you.
Otherwise, why would the Internal Revenue Service take the time to go visit your bank manager? Oftentimes, when the IRS agent visits your bank manager, it is to begin comprehensive research on issues such as transfers, moving money offshore, and other matters related to your bank account.
They may want to know how often you come to the bank, and how often you request cash as opposed to other transfers. They may also want to know if there any other non-primary individuals on the account, accessing your information and if there are other accounts that the IRS may not know about yet.
Showing up at Your Home, Unannounced
When a person is not cooperating with the IRS, or consistently avoids appearing before the IRS, the IRS can get frustrated. One way the IRS relieves its frustration is by visiting by a person’s residence to try to put pressure on them.
This can be done for two main reasons: The first reason is to put some pressure on the individual to let them know that the IRS is aware of where person lives and that the situation is not going away so quickly. Second, is so the IRS can monitor how the person reacts after the IRS appears at their home. For example, as a result of the IRS visiting their home unannounced, in a person begins making significant transitions or transfers of money from one location or account to another – it may help the IRS pursue a criminal investigation.
Showing up at your Employment or Place of Business
This is a little more intense, and is usually not protocol unless a person owns their own business. We have had many clients tell us, in the pre-criminal investigation phase that the IRS showed up at their place of business to ask themselves – and other employees – various questions.
Of course, other individuals at the place of employment not required to speak to the IRS if they are not under subpoena or summons. Nevertheless, oftentimes people are so scared that when the IRS approaches, that they feel like they have to answer the question — and do. The employees mistakenly believe that by simply answering the questions it will make it go away – usually, the reverse happens and it just gives the IRS more ammunition to go after you.
Sudden Stopping of Communication From the IRS
If you are ever in an audit and the audit ends, but you are unable to obtain a closing letter or any other documentation from the IRS it may be cause for concern. That is because when a civil audit is stopped either abruptly (or with a little more tact), before it seems like the audit is complete, it is because the IRS agent believes there is a criminal issues
In a civil situation, the IRS is absolutely prohibited from asking further questions. That is because in a criminal setting, a person has a right against self-incrimination. A civil audit is not a criminal investigation, and therefore the agent does not have the right to ask criminal type questions.
Interviewing your CPA
If the IRS believes the CPA has information regarding a potential criminal tax matter, the IRS will send them a summons and bring their own “court reporter” with them to a question-and-answer session.
While the CPA has the right to counsel, it is important to understand that if the IRS is taking these types of actions against people on your behalf, then chances are the IRS is at least trying to put together all the evidence he can to determine whether there may be a criminal issue at play.
Danger of Non-Compliance
When a person receives an audit notice, they are not required to appear at the audit. In other words, Counsel may represent them at the audit. Oftentimes, this may be a good idea but it is important to be using counsel who fully understands the complexities of not bringing the client to the audit, but still providing sufficient information to the auditor to appease the auditor.
Oftentimes, the IRS agent wants to see the individual in-person. This does not mean the person should appear, but counsel should at least have the following in preparation for the hearing:
- A Full understanding of the case
- A Knowledge of the underlying facts
- All the necessary documentation
- A multi-step plan to facilitate compliance without the client getting in harms way
Avoid these Issues with IRS Offshore Disclosure
If you have come to the realization that you have undisclosed unreported foreign accounts-either because you acted willfully or non-willfully, there are options available to you to get into compliance.
Some people will believe that they would just wait until they are contacted by the IRS before making any representation to the IRS regarding the foreign accounts. This is a bad idea for many reasons, with the primary reason being following: if you wait until the IRS contacts you regarding undisclosed foreign accounts you will be on defense.
Sure, you know you are non-willful, but why would the IRS agent believe you or even if they do, they will take you to task typically require much more paperwork than would otherwise be required if you made a proactive representation to the IRS.
Moreover, the penalties may be a lot worse in an audit then an offshore disclosure situation.
If you are found to be willful and intentionally misrepresented your case to the IRS, you may be subject to extremely high fines and penalties beyond what you may have already paid.
The following is a summary of penalties as published by the IRS on their own website:
A penalty for failing to file FBARs. United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. The civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign financial account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
Beginning with the 2011 tax year, a penalty for failing to file Form 8938 reporting the taxpayer’s interest in certain foreign financial assets, including financial accounts, certain foreign securities, and interests in foreign entities, as required by IRC § 6038D. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
A penalty for failing to file Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048. This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under IRC § 6039F. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.
A penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A, Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b). The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 5 percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
A penalty for failing to file Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
A penalty for failing to file Form 5472, Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.
A penalty for failing to file Form 926, Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.
A penalty for failing to file Form 8865, Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.
Underpayment & Fraud Penalties
Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663. Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.
A penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1). Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.
A penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2). If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.
An accuracy-related penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662. Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty.
Even Criminal Charges are Possible…
Possible criminal charges related to tax matters include tax evasion (IRC § 7201), filing a false return (IRC § 7206(1)) and failure to file an income tax return (IRC § 7203). Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. § 5322. Additional possible criminal charges include conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims (18 U.S.C. § 286) and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371).
A person convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims is subject to a prison term of up to not more than 10 years or a fine of up to $250,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States is subject to a prison term of not more than five years and a fine of up to $250,000.