The IRS Independent Office of Appeals (Appeals) interacts with taxpayers and their representatives through correspondence, telephone and personal conferences, either in person or virtually. Appeals has expanded the availability of virtual conferences in cases pending with Appeals. Under this expansion, if you have an individual or business case pending with Appeals, we may offer you a virtual conference. The goal of these conferences is to provide a virtual face-to-face opportunity to meet, improving communication between the parties and assisting in resolution of the tax matters at issue. 1. Why is Appeals offering virtual conferences? Appeals' objective in offering virtual conferences is to provide taxpayers and their representatives an additional conference option. Conferences are intended to provide taxpayers the opportunity to be heard and present their position to Appeals, allowing Appeals to resolve tax controversies, without litigation, on a basis which is fair and impartial to both the taxpayer and the government. Some taxpayers may feel they can best present their position to Appeals through an in-person conference at an Appeals office. Others prefer the telephone. A virtual conference allows taxpayers to be both seen and heard, and to visually share documents, without coming to an Appeals office. While taxpayers who are geographically remote from an IRS office might find virtual conferences a useful and more economical alternative to traveling for an in-person conference, even taxpayers who aren't geographically remote may prefer the convenience of a virtual conference. 2. Will virtual conferences replace in-person conferences? No. Virtual conferences won't replace in-person conferences in Appeals. However, due to the pandemic, we are currently not able to accommodate in-person conference requests. Appeals' aim is to provide taxpayers and their representatives the ability to have their cases heard. Appeals will continue to interact with taxpayers and their representatives through correspondence, telephone conferences and in-person conferences, when requested. Virtual conferences are simply an additional conference option, not a replacement for in-person conferences. 3. What will I need to participate in a virtual conference? You’ll need a computer, tablet, or other mobile device with a high-speed internet connection; video camera capabilities are preferred. You’ll also need the appropriate software (WebEx or Zoom Client) installed on your device for optimal performance. If you don’t have a video camera, you can still participate in a virtual conference for audio and the visual sharing of documents and you’ll be able to see other participants who use their cameras, but they won’t be able to see you. 4. What platforms will Appeals use for virtual conferences? Currently, Appeals is conducting virtual conferences using Webex or ZoomGov. Both offer free commercial software which provides meeting participants the ability to interact through audio, video and the visual sharing of documents. Only Webex and ZoomGov are approved for use by the IRS for purposes of visually sharing information. Using these services allows all parties to participate in an interactive conference to discuss the facts and/or legal positions of a case. 5. Who is eligible for a virtual conference? Not all cases before Appeals will be offered a virtual conference, as only certain Appeals Officers (AOs) who volunteer to use Webex will be involved. These AOs will provide you the option of conducting a Webex conference in their initial contact with you. You will need to meet the equipment and software requirements as stated in paragraph 3 above. Appeals will not conduct a virtual conference unless you agree to it. If you desire a Webex conference but the AO assigned to your case does not use Webex, you will have to conduct your conference using more traditional means; your case will not be transferred to an AO who uses Webex. 6. How do I get and install the appropriate software? You can test your system's compatibility with the virtual conference technology by visiting the website for Webex or ZoomGov. It is recommended that you also download the appropriate software from the respective site. When you agree to a virtual conference, the Appeals Officer will email you a link to attend the conference. 7. I didn't think the IRS sent emails. How is this allowed? Internal Revenue Manual 10.5.1.6.8.1, Emails to Taxpayers and Representatives, provides that when a taxpayer requests email contact and accepts the risk, the IRS may send an email with a brief, unencrypted message confirming the date, time or location of an upcoming appointment. However, we aren't permitted to include information about the nature of the appointment or send any follow-up email discussing your account or case. 8. Is the virtual conference secure? Yes. Both Webex and ZoomGov conferences have the same level of security and privacy as a telephone call. Appeals won't record virtual conferences and, although documents can be visually shared onscreen, no actual file transfer will take place. 9. Can I join a virtual conference from a public location? While you can participate in a virtual conference from a public location with internet access (library, coffee shop, etc.), it's not advised, as you may be exposing your private information to others. If you choose to use a public location, you are responsible for ensuring the privacy of the conference and Appeals may terminate the conference if there are concerns about the potential for disclosure. 10. What are the benefits of a virtual conference? A virtual conference: provides a virtual face-to-face opportunity to meet, ensuring engagement and facilitating communication, reduces the time and effort associated with taxpayer travel to an Appeals office, and allows visual presentation of information in real time. 11. If I visually share an application, what do the other participants see? The other participants in the virtual conference only see the application you select to share. They can't see your desktop, other pop-up menus or folders that may display on your screen while you are choosing the application to share. However, such conferences, it is important that you only choose to share specific file. Do not choose to share a drive folder if it is open, or participants will be able to see all the filenames in that folder. As you participate in the virtual conference, you should only have the file(s) in the application that you wish to share open on your computer, to avoid any inadvertent display of information you don't want to share. 12. Are there any limitations with virtual conferences? As with many such applications, technical difficulties may arise. Audio and video efficiency may be affected by internet connectivity, bandwidth, and the equipment and operating systems being used by each party to the conference. High-speed cable connections work better than DSL and hard-wired modem connections are recommended over wireless connections. While it's Appeals' desire that each virtual conference run smoothly, we recognize that technical difficulties may impact the success of each meeting. In the event your virtual conference encounters such difficulties, the Appeals Officer will conference with you using more traditional means. 13. What features will be used in virtual conferences? Webex and ZoomGov have many features, but Appeals isn't using all of them. Appeals will use the videoconference, document viewing, and chat features in virtual conferences. Appeals isn't using the features for recording a conference or for the electronic transfer of files. In fact, any recording of the virtual conference by any participant is strictly prohibited.