IRS taunts tax cheats as it flaunts crackdown on tax crime

While the IRS may be combating a decline in staffing and funding, it wants the public to know that it is still coming down hard on tax criminals.

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According to the agency’s annual Criminal Investigation Report for 2019, it had a 91.2 percent conviction rate for criminal cases this year.

The agency also said it identified $1.8 billion worth of tax fraud and $4.4 billion worth of other financial crimes. It executed 1,726 warrants.

The chief of the agency’s criminal investigation unit, Don Fort, said in the report that the group has had to make adjustments to keep up with advancements that have allowed criminals to move money “in the blink of an eye.”

“The speed at which money moves today is almost instantaneous and the convenience that comes with that opens the door for criminals to exploit the latest technological advancements,” Fort said.

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He added that criminals now deal in cryptocurrency – thinking it will make them “anonymous” – but that the agency will continue pursuing criminals across all platforms.

Earlier this year, the IRS warned tens of thousands of taxpayers to report and pay taxes on their virtual currency transactions. Failure to pay those taxes can subject individuals to penalties and interest.

The agency’s criminal division spent three-quarters of its time on tax crime – including everything from cybercrimes to abusive tax schemes to corporate and refund fraud.

In fiscal 2019, 2,485 investigations were initiated, which was less than the prior two years. The incarceration rate was 79 percent, and the average number of months individuals were sentenced to serve was 43.

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Despite the focus on crime, a recent report indicated the gap between what the IRS is owed and what it collects could swell over the coming decade – to $7.5 trillion.

The IRS budget has declined by 15 percent since 2011 and the enforcement budget has decreased by 25 percent over the same timeframe. The IRS has fewer auditors now than at any point since World War II. Overall, staffing has been reduced by more than 20 percent since 2011.

In fiscal 2018, the agency audited 0.59 percent of individual tax returns or about 892,000 documents. That is less than the year prior when the rate hit 0.62 percent and audits were at their lowest level since 2002. Rates for high-income earners, who have adjusted gross income exceeding $10 million, fell to 6.66 percent, from more than 14 percent the year prior.

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