IRS Initiates ‘Operation Hidden Treasure’ to Root Out Unreported Crypto Income

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) appears to be stepping up its enforcement capabilities with a new program dedicated to cryptocurrency tax compliance. 

With “Operation Hidden Treasure,” the IRS will search for unreported crypto-related income, according to Director of the Office of Fraud Enforcement Damon Rowe.

  • Speaking at a Federal Bar Association virtual tax conference, Rowe said cryptocurrency fraud will be a priority. Forbes first reported the news.
  • Operation Hidden Treasure, a joint effort between the IRS’ civil office of fraud enforcement and its criminal investigation unit, will train agents to look at blockchains to root out tax evasion among cryptocurrency users. It will exist as part of the office’s emerging threats mitigation team, Forbes said.
  • IRS employees are also reportedly training alongside the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) as part of the initiative.

Carolyn Schenck, national fraud counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, told conference-goers the agency is working with private contractors and vendors, presumably blockchain analytics firms, to develop “signatures,” or telltale signs of fraudulent activity.

  • These indicators include looking at those who structure transactions just below reporting requirements (like sending a series of $10,000 transactions), using shell corporations to hide funds as well as “getting on and off the chain,” Schenck reportedly said.
  • The IRS has sent conflicting messages to U.S. crypto holders several times in the past. Most recently, an updated FAQ page indicated that investors who simply bought “virtual currency with real currency” would not have to report that transaction on this year’s tax returns.
  • Still, cashing out crypto or making every-day purchases is typically seen as a taxable event. Operation Hidden Treasure is designed to find, trace, and attribute such transactions to taxpayers, Schenck said.

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