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IRS Continues Efforts to Crack Cryptocurrency (9/15/20)

The IRS is offering to pay private contractors who can ““reliably produce useful results on a variety of real-world CI cryptocurrency investigations involving Monero and/or Lightning.”  Kelly Phillips Erb, IRS Will Pay Up To $625,000 If You Can Crack Monero, Other Privacy Coins (Forbes 9/14/20), here.  I don’t expect readers of this blog to jump at the opportunity, but readers of this blog should be aware of this and related developments that constrict taxpayers’ ability to hide untaxed income in cryptocurrency.  

Key excerpts:

The IRS has made no secret that it believes that taxpayers are not correctly reporting cryptocurrency transactions. An IRS dive into the data showed that for the 2013 through 2015 tax years, when IRS matched data collected from forms 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, which were filed electronically, they found that just 807 individuals reported a transaction using a property description likely related to bitcoin in 2013; in 2014, that number was only 893; and in 2015, the number fell to 802.

Cryptocurrency Compliance Efforts

A new cryptocurrency compliance measure for taxpayers was introduced in 2019 in the form of a checkbox on the top of Schedule 1, Additional Income and Adjustments to Income (Schedule 1 is used to report income or adjustments to income that can’t be entered directly on the front page of form 1040). And in 2020, the IRS noted that it will post a cryptocurrency question right on the front page of your Form 1040.

In 2019, the IRS also announced that it was sending letters to taxpayers who might have failed to report income and pay the resulting tax from virtual currency transactions or did not report their transactions properly. The names of these taxpayers were obtained through various ongoing IRS compliance efforts.

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About Privacy Coins

The focus of the proposal is privacy coins. Privacy coins allow users more anonymity when using cryptocurrency. According to the IRS-CI, the use of privacy coins is becoming more popular not only by investors, but also by illicit actors. For example, according to the IRS-CI, in April 2020, a RaaS (Ransomware as a Service) group called Sodinokibi (a former affiliate with the GrandCrab RaaS group) stated that future ransom request payments will be in Monero (XMR) rather than Bitcoin (BTC) due to transaction privacy concerns.

Bitcoin has become increasingly common since it’s easy to use – even for relative crypto newbies. Bitcoin transactions are open ledger (blockchain): that means that the record-keeping system is “public” through a series or chain of blocks even though the exact identities of the participants (as well as their other details, like account balances) may remain private. This kind of open system encourages transparency but also means that, with some effort, hackers and others – like the authorities – can track down the players in a chain of transactions. 

The result has been a push from some crypto-sectors to completely anonymize all pieces of the transaction. Enter privacy coins. Monero is considered the largest privacy coin on the market right now; the technology it uses extends privacy to senders, receivers, and transaction amounts. Other popular privacy coins include Cash (ZEC) and Dash.

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