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I.R.S. Is Seeking Tax Evaders Who Use Bitcoin

SAN FRANCISCO — The Internal Revenue Service is on the hunt for people who used Bitcoin to evade taxes.

The tax agency sent a broad request on Thursday to Coinbase, the largest Bitcoin exchange in the United States, asking for the records of all customers who bought virtual currency from the company from 2013 to 2015.

The document, a so-called John Doe summons, said that an I.R.S. agent recently found three cases in which people were using Bitcoin to evade taxes — two of which involved Coinbase customers.

The I.R.S. said that those findings — and Bitcoin’s relatively high level of anonymity — have led the agency to think that many more people are very likely using the virtual currency for similar purposes.

“The I.R.S. not only has suspicion that the John Doe class includes U.S. taxpayers who are not complying with the law — it knows that the class in the past included such violators, and very likely includes others,” the document says.

The summons comes shortly after the Treasury Department’s inspector general issued a report chastising the tax agency for not taking more aggressive action to curb “unlawful activities by those who use virtual currencies.”

“None of the I.R.S. operating divisions have developed any type of compliance initiatives or guidelines for conducting examinations or investigations specific to tax noncompliance related to virtual currencies,” the report, delivered in September, said.

The request this week would require Coinbase, a start-up based in San Francisco with funding from several leading venture capital firms, to turn over the identity and full transaction history of millions of customers — it had about three million customers at the end of 2015. But the company is already gearing up to fight the request.

“We want to work with law enforcement — that’s generally our policy. But we can’t tolerate sweeping fishing expeditions,” the company’s head legal counsel, Juan Suarez, said on Friday. “We are very concerned about the financial privacy rights of our customers.”

The existence of the summons was reported earlier on Twitter by the financial blog Zero Hedge.

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