IRS seeks Bitcoin Accountholder Data from Largest US Bitcoin Exchanger

On November 17, 2016, the IRS and the US Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) opened a new front against offshore tax evasion – bitcoin accountholder data. On that day, the DOJ filed a petition (accompanied by the IRS memorandum) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking permission to serve a John Doe Summons on bitcoin exchanger, Coinbase Inc. (“Coinbase”), in order to obtain bitcoin transaction records and bitcoin accountholder identities. Coinbase already indicated in its blog post that it will oppose the petition for the bitcoin account holder data in court based on the issues related to its customers’ privacy.

Bitcoin Background Information

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and a payment system; its unique nature is in the fact that it is the first decentralized cryptocurrency. It is also the largest virtual currency on the market and the one that has been recognized by users and merchants in many countries (though others have banned it).

The Anonymity of the Bitcoin Accountholder Data Poses a Problem for the IRS

The IRS sees a big problem with bitcoins. While all of the bitcoin transactions are publicly recorded, the actual identity of a bitcoin owner is completely anonymous. The IRS memorandum in support of the John Doe Summons petition is expressly stating the IRS concerns regarding US taxpayers who do not report taxable income from bitcoin transactions and bitcoin trading. Additionally, the IRS (in its aforementioned memorandum) pointed out that bitcoins can be used for creation of non-existing deductions to reduce taxable income.

Offshore Tax Compliance is at the Heart of the IRS Attack on the Bitcoin Accountholder Data

Furthermore, it is no accident that the IRS memorandum that accompanied the DOJ petition was written by Mr. David Utzke, a senior revenue agent with the IRS’s offshore compliance initiatives program. This demonstrates that the IRS views the anonymity of the bitcoin accountholder data not merely a domestic, but also an offshore tax compliance issue. Mr. Utzke expressly states his concerns that bitcoin transactions now replace the more traditional abusive offshore tax schemes.

We also should remember that, in its Notice 2014-21, the IRS treats convertible virtual currency as property for federal tax purposes. This first means that a taxpayer must report any capital gains and losses on his tax returns even if the bitcoin sales occur overseas.

Moreover, this potentially means (though the IRS has not yet expressly stated so) that bitcoins purchased overseas are reportable foreign assets subject to potentially FATCA and FBAR requirements (depending on how they are held – bitcoin wallets can potentially be treated as foreign accounts). The other side of this conclusion is that a bitcoin held overseas may draw FBAR and Form 8938 penalties if it is not timely and properly disclosed. This is indirectly confirmed by Notice 2014-21 which specifically singles out penalties associated with the failure to file an information return under IRC Sections 6721 and 6722.

Sherayzen Law Office Can Help You With Your Bitcoin US Tax Compliance Issues

If you own bitcoins overseas and you have unreported bitcoin income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office to help you with your US tax compliance as soon as possible. Time is of the essence; if your identity is disclosed to the IRS and the IRS commences an investigation, you may be precluded from conducting a voluntary disclosure with respect to your bitcoins. In this case, the IRS may impose its draconian tax penalties on unreported income and assets.

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