The Trouble With Identity Protection Verification Notices

The IRS sends two types of Identity Protection Verification Letters: LTR 4883C and LTR 5071C.  If you receive a LTR 4883C, you must call the IRS’s Identity Protection unit so that your return is processed.  If you receive a LTR 5071C, you can generally respond online and have your return processed.

There are three main problems with the verification notices:

  1. Reaching a human at the IRS is extremely difficult;
  2. Tax professionals generally cannot call on your behalf if you receive one of these notices (we can be on the call with you, but the IRS wants the taxpayer to be on the line);
  3. The IRS is not following up with taxpayers who don’t respond to the notices.

Today, I’m going to look at the third issue: the lack of follow-up.  Here’s a real world example.

A client, call him John Smith, filed his 2021 tax return in May.  He owed the IRS $5,000 in tax and paid that and the appropriate amount of interest.  It was the first time Mr. Smith had ever filed a return after April 15th–and there was no extension.  The IRS assessed the late filing and late payment penalties.  Mr. Smith believed he qualified for First Time Abatement and signed an IRS Power of Attorney form allowing me to request the abatement.  I called the IRS to request the abatement (on my 10th try to reach the IRS today via the Practitioner Priority Service, I got through).  The helpful IRS agent asked me if Mr. Smith had filed his 2019 return.  I said he had (I had a copy of it).  She did some digging, and discovered that the IRS had sent an Identity Protection Letter that Mr. Smith never responded to, and his return was sitting in limbo.  Another copy of the letter is going out in the mail to Mr. Smith, so his 2019 return should soon be processed.  Once that happens, we’ll be able to request the abatement for 2021.

Mr. Smith told me he was stunned by what I wrote; he claims he never received the IRS letter.  Unfortunately, the mail isn’t perfect and it is quite possible that he didn’t receive it.  (Indeed, today a different client told me one of his past due returns had finally been processed and there’s a balance due.  I ran an Account Transcript; in theory, the IRS sent notices to him and me in March showing the balance due.  Neither of us received a notice.  But I digress….)

Let’s consider an alternative reality where three or four months after the initial Identity Protection Unit notice is sent a follow-up notice is sent (if the return remains unprocessed).  There’s a better likelihood of the taxpayer responding and getting the return processed–the goal of all involved.  And the cost of this programming change and sending the letter should be minimal.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality we live in today.  Instead, there’s no follow-up and it was only by accident that we discovered the issue.  If my client had timely filed his 2021 tax return, we still wouldn’t know about this issue.  IRS: It’s time to start following up on these notices.

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