Category Archives: Charitable Contributions

Fraud Alert: Latest Reprehensible Tax and Financial Scam: Phony Charitable Contributions To Aid Typhoon Victims

IRS Alert: Charitable Contribution Scam

Typhoon Haiyan Disaster

The Internal Revenue Service has just issued a consumer alert about possible scams taking place in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.  As most of us know, on Nov. 8, 2013, this typhoon known as Yolanda in the Philippines – made landfall in the central Philippines, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that have resulted in flooding, landslides, and widespread damage and personal devastation.

Following major disasters, it is now increasing common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers.

Fraudulent Contact:

Such fraudulent schemes may involve contact in many ways including the following:

  • Telephone
  • Social media
  • Email or
  • In-person solicitations.

Tips To Avoid Being Scammed:

To avoid your own personal financial disaster, please follow these recommendations:

  • To help disaster victims, donate only to recognized charities.
  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or sound like nationally known organizations.
  1. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  2. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find legitimate, qualified charities; this will help make sure that the donations to these charities are tax-deductible.
  3. Legitimate charities may also be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website at fema.gov.
  • BASIC RULE OF LIFE:  Don’t give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone soliciting contributions.  Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.  Please read IRS Slams Taxpayers: Attention to Tax Details Matter to learn why this is so important from a tax perspective.

    • Ultra-Careful Tip #1:  In fact, it is probably better to use your credit card as your card company may protect you against such fraudulent charges.
  • If you plan to claim a deduction for your contribution, see IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, to read about the kinds of organizations that can receive deductible contributions.
    • Ultra-Careful Tip #2: Even in situations where there is no fraud, it is prudent to make sure the organization is a qualified tax-exempt organization under federal law.  You may be unpleasantly surprised to know that many organizations erroneously hold themselves out as tax-qualified.  This can result in some nasty tax consequences if an audit by the IRS determines that the organization was not tax-exempt and disallows your charitable deduction.

Bogus Websites and E-Mails:

Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims. Such fraudulent sites frequently mimic the sites of, or use names similar to, legitimate charities, or claim affiliation with legitimate charities to persuade members of the public to send money or provide personal financial information that can be used to steal identities or financial resources.

Additionally, fraudsters often send e-mail that steers the recipient to bogus websites that seem affiliated with legitimate charitable causes.

Final Thoughts:

This is such a sad commentary about our world.  The old refrain “No good deed goes unpunished” is clearly applicable here.  It seems our best and noblest intentions can and will be used against us.  Vigilance, skepticism and prudence are imperative even when we are trying to do the right thing.

Does this kind of fraud strike a nerve or really make you angry?  Or are we just numb to it all and just pass it off as the way of the world? What are your thoughts?  Be sure to let me know what you think in the Leave a Reply below.

As required by United States Treasury Regulations, you should be aware that this communication is not intended by the sender to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under United States federal tax laws.

As required by United States Treasury Regulations, you should be aware that this communication is not intended by the sender to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under United States federal tax laws.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.

IRS Slams Taxpayers: Attention to Tax Details Matter

IRS_Slams-Taxpayers_On_Bad_Documentation

IRS Slams Taxpayers On Bad Documentation

Taxpayers found out the hard way that the documentation rules imposed by the IRS better be followed exactly and to the letter.  In Durden, TC Memo, 2012-140, taxpayers claimed a $22,517 charitable contribution for 2007.  The IRS disallowed this deduction and the United States Tax Court agreed.

The taxpayers had canceled checks and a letter dated January 10, 2008 from the church confirming this contribution.  Seems like that would be enough.  Wrong!

The IRS did not accept the church’s acknowledgement because it lacked certain language as required under IRS rules.  For a charitable contribution deduction, Section 170(f)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code requires that a monetary contribution of $250 or more must be substantiated by:

  1. A contemporaneous written acknowledgment,
  2. That indicates the amount paid by the taxpayer, and
  3. Whether the organization provided any goods and services in consideration (or in exchange) for the contribution, and if so, a good faith estimate of the value of such goods and services.

The problem for the taxpayers was that the church failed to include part 3 in their January 10, 2008 letter to the taxpayers.  They then went back to the church and got a second letter dated January 21, 2009 that revised the first letter by containing the required language under part 3 of this test.

But now the problem was that the revised letter was too late so it could not be considered contemporaneous by the IRS.  To be contemporaneous under Section 170(f)(8)(C) of the Internal Revenue Code it must be obtained by the due date of the tax return (here April 15, 2008) plus any extensions or, if earlier, the date the taxpayer files the return.  So now the taxpayers flunked part 1 of the test!

You might think that this is pretty harsh since the taxpayer’s really came close here.  So did the taxpayers.  The taxpayers argued that since they substantially complied they should still get the deduction.  The substantial compliance test has been successfully argued where a taxpayer can show that despite strict compliance they have met the essential statutory purpose of such requirement.  The court pointed out that the essential statutory purpose of the acknowledgement rules are  two-fold:

  1. Assist taxpayers in determining their deduction, and
  2. To aid the IRS in processing returns.

The court determined that without a statement from the church that no goods and services were provided,  neither of these two essential statutory purposes can be met.

This is a pretty harsh result for the taxpayers, especially since it was clearly the church that failed to provide the requisite language.  But the object lessons here are clear.

First, when dealing with charitable contributions you better make sure this language is present, especially in cases where large gifts are involved.

Second, when it comes to taxes attention to details is essential.

Third and finally, complying with the various federal, state and local income taxes is complicated.  Having an attention-to-detail minded tax attorney, or tax accountant is greatly recommended and probably essential.  With the loss of this large charitable deduction and the cost to bring this matter before the United States Tax Court, the Durdens definitely found this out the hard way.