“The IRS Has Failed to Provide Effective and Timely Assistance to Victims of Identity Theft”

That’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson. Most tax professionals who have run into identity theft can relate horror stories. Jason Dinesen, an Enrolled Agent in Iowa, has been dealing with an identity theft matter for over 20 months (that’s nearly two years). The matter is still unresolved.

Ms. Olson today came to the conclusion that:

■■ The IRS is moving backward — away from a centralized approach to assisting identity theft victims — and is increasing the risk that taxpayer-victims may fall through the cracks;
■■ After years of ineffective efforts to reengineer its processes, the IRS still takes too long to fully resolve the accounts of victims;
■■ While the Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) that the IRS has developed provides additional security, it does not cover all victims;
■■ The Taxpayer Protection Unit may not be sufficiently staffed to handle the volume of calls from impacted taxpayers;
■■ Congress may unnecessarily create additional exceptions to taxpayer privacy protections; and
■■ The Social Security Administration still makes the Death Master File available to the public, creating an opportunity for identity thieves to steal and then misuse personal information.

The IRS and the Taxpayer Advocate both have reasonable arguments; the report (linked to above) notes both sets of issues. But I think Ms. Olsen misses a key point: The place to stop identity theft is checking addresses when returns are filed. The proposal that I made back in September would stop some identity theft before it happens. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Ms. Olson hits a bullseye with her comments on the Social Security Death Master File; she sees no reason for that to be available to the public while the social security numbers could be used for identity theft. I agree completely. The government is handing to crooks information they need to be crooks.

Finally, Ms. Olson’s comments about the length of time it takes to resolve many identity theft claims are accurate. The cases take a long time. They are complex. That said, many individuals are waiting years to get matters resolved. This is a disservice to an agency that has “service” in their name.

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