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Impressive -- and, to some, frightening -- global reach of IRS

Imagine for a moment that you have lived virtually your entire life in a country other than the United States. You speak a language other than English and identify far more closely with events that are going on far outside U.S. borders than with anything happening domestically in that country.

And then one day you suddenly get a mailing from the Internal Revenue Service informing you that you are in arrears on debt you owe the U.S. government for years of unpaid taxes. You are further informed that for decades you have failed to carry out your lawful duty to file annual tax returns.

What might be the best word to describe your reaction in such a scenario? Amazement? Wonderment?

Stupefaction?

Welcome to the world of outsized IRS outreach that many people across the globe are currently being introduced to.

One of them, as reported in a media article focusing on IRS demands on individuals outside the United States, is Boris Johnson.

Johnson turns out to be the mayor of London. He is decidedly British by any measuring stick, but he also turns out to be American by a described "accident of birth," namely, being born in New York while his father was a student there. That automatically made him a citizen.

It has also made him, in the view of the IRS, a debtor. The agency recently demanded that Johnson pay capital gains tax on the sale of his London home. He settled the matter and now says he wants to formally renounce ties with the U.S., owing to its "incredible doctrine of global taxation."

Johnson is far from being alone in his views. The number of Americans renouncing their citizenship has more than tripled in recent years.

Persons with questions and concerns regarding IRS actions and authority are never in short supply, of course, given the agency's broad reach and plenary powers.

As is always worthy of reminder, though, IRS powers are not unchecked. They are statutorily prescribed and subject to limitations, and a concerned taxpayer can always secure assistance from a proven and aggressive tax attorney with experience representing clients in IRS-related matters.

Boris Johnson's case is certainly eye-opening, but it is also instructive for its singular nature and as a reminder that taxpayers in most instances can readily avail themselves of legal help when they square off against the IRS.

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