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U.S. FTC: IRS imposter complaints up more than 2,300% in 2014

Michael Cooney | Jan. 27, 2015
FTC says taxpayer ID theft scams also at all-time high.

Meanwhile the FTC noted another IRS scam scourge: Tax identity theft which was the most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC in 2014.

Tax identity theft typically happens when a scammer files a fraudulent tax return using a consumer's Social Security number in order to receive a refund. The year 2014 marks the fifth consecutive year in which tax-related identity theft topped the list of identity theft complaints, with tax identity theft accounting for nearly a third of all identity theft complaints to the FTC.

Watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office in September issued a report that looked at the IRS identity theft problem and made a few recommendations on how to fight the massive fraud that is taking place right now. The first and possibly most effective solution is to stop the IRS practice of what the GAO called "looking back" which matches returns with W-2 information after tax forms are filed.

"IRS currently cannot do such matching because employers' wage data (from Form W-2s) are not available until months after IRS issues most refunds. Consequently, IRS begins matching employer-reported W-2 data to tax returns in July, following the tax season. If IRS had access to W-2 data earlier--through accelerated W-2 deadlines and increased electronic filing of W-2s--it could conduct pre-refund matching and identify discrepancies to prevent the issuance of billions in fraudulent refunds," the GAO stated.

For example, in 2012, the IRS received more than 148.3 million tax returns and issued more than $309.6 billion in refunds to 110.5 million taxpayers. By March 1, 2012 IRS had issued about 50% of all 2012 refunds, but did not have access to most of the 2012 W-2 data verified by the Social Security Administration.

According to the GAO, in 2014, the Department of the Treasury proposed that Congress accelerate W-2 deadlines to January 31. "However, IRS has not fully assessed the impacts of this proposal. Without this assessment, Congress does not have the information needed to deliberate the merits of such a significant change to W-2 deadlines or the use of pre-refund W-2 matching," the GAO stated.

Another fix the GAO proposes is requiring smaller companies to electronically file W-2s. Currently, employers who file 250 or more W-2s annually must e-file those forms. The IRS is generally prohibited from requiring those filing fewer than 250 returns annually to e-file. The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimated that to meaningfully increase W-2 e-filing, the threshold would have to be lowered to include those companies filing 5 to 10 W-2s, the GAO stated. In addition, SSA estimated an administrative cost savings of about $0.50 per e-filed W-2.

Part of the overall issue is that the IRS is under pressure to issue refunds quickly. The IRS is required by law to pay interest if it takes longer than 45 days after the due date of the return to issue a refund. The IRS tells taxpayers to anticipate their refunds generally within 21 days after filing and actively tries to meet this target. For the tax year 2013, IRS reported that for tax returns filed through early March, taxpayers received refunds an average of 9.6 days after filing, the GAO stated. Delaying those refunds is likely to burden taxpayers, according to IRS.


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