IRS Warns of 'Corporation Sole' Tax Scam

The Internal Revenue Service this week issued a consumer alert advising taxpayers to be wary of promoters offering a tax evasion scheme that misuses "Corporation Sole" laws. Promoters of the scheme misrepresent state and federal laws intended only for bona-fide churches, religious institutions and church leaders.

"This scheme shamelessly tries to take advantage of special tax benefits available to legitimate religious groups and church leaders," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "Unscrupulous tax promoters always look for ways to game the system and prey on unsuspecting victims. Taxpayers should be on the look-out for these and other scams."

Scheme promoters typically exploit legitimate laws to establish sham one-person, nonprofit religious corporations. Participants in the scam apply for incorporation under the pretext of being a "bishop" or "overseer" of the phony religious organization or society. The idea promoted is that the arrangement entitles the individual to exemption from federal income taxes as an organization described in Section 501(c)(3) laws.

The scheme is currently being marketed through seminars with fees of up to $1,000 or more per person. Would-be participants purportedly are told that Corporation Sole laws provide a "legal" way to escape paying federal income taxes, child support and other personal debts by hiding assets in a tax exempt entity.

While fraudulent Corporation Sole filings have happened sporadically for many years, the IRS has recently seen signs the scam could be starting to spread with multiple cases seen recently in states such as Utah and Washington. The IRS is concerned about this increase and is taking steps to pursue Corporation Sole promoters and participants.

Used as intended, Corporation Sole statutes enable religious leaders — typically bishops or parsons — to be incorporated for the purpose of insuring the continuation of ownership of property dedicated to the benefit of a legitimate religious organization. Generally, creditors of a Corporation Sole may not look to the assets of the individual holding the office nor may the creditors of the individual look to the assets held by the Corporation Sole. Currently, 16 states permit Corporation Sole incorporations. The IRS suggests that individuals considering becoming involved in any kind of tax avoidance arrangement obtain expert advice from a competent tax advisor not involved in selling the arrangement. Do not rely on legal opinions obtained or provided by the arrangement’s promoter. Start by asking the following questions:

  • Is the arrangement designed to hide income or assets?
  • Is the arrangement designed to evade income taxes?

Answering “yes,” or even “maybe,” to either of these questions should raise red flags for taxpayers.

Additional information on Corporate Sole and the rest of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams and schemes is available on IRS.gov.

Tax guidelines for churches and religious institutions can be found in Publication 1828, “Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations”.

Taxpayers with specific questions on a tax scheme or who wish to report a possible scheme can call (866) 775-7474 or send an e-mail to irs.tax.shelter.hotline@irs.gov.

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