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The IRS uses certain “filters” to detect and prevent tax refund fraud. While these filters do stop a substantial amount of fraud, they also flag hundreds of thousands of returns each year that turn out to be legitimate. This causes refund delays and often creates financial hardships. Notably, the filters have produced a dramatic increase in the number of taxpayers seeking TAS assistance. TAS’s non-identity theft refund fraud case receipts have increased nearly five-fold over the past three years – from about 18,500 cases in calendar year (CY) 2017 to about 92,000 in CY 2019. Moreover, about 72 percent of the case receipts for CY 2019 were accepted under TAS’s “economic hardship” criteria. I wrote about this issue in a Most Serious Problem in my 2019 Annual Report to Congress.
Some background: The IRS’s Return Integrity Verification Operations (RIVO) function operates filters designed to identify suspected identity theft and other non-identify theft related instances of fraud. One of these filters is designed to identify cases where a taxpayer files a fraudulent return in his or her own name (e.g., the taxpayer claims his employer withheld $7,000 in federal tax when the employer only withheld $3,000, which, if not detected, would cause the taxpayer to receive a refund of $4,000 more than the correct amount). This non-identity theft filter is operated, in IRS parlance, by the “Pre-Refund Wage Verification Hold” (PRWVH) program.
Before paying refunds, the IRS generally tries to match the income and withholding amounts the taxpayer lists on his or her tax return against the amounts reported by the taxpayer’s employer(s) on Forms W 2 and by other payors of income on Forms 1099. The results generated by this data-matching – often because of missing W-2 data or a mistake on the part of the taxpayer – have driven the sharp increase in TAS cases and undermined our ability to be as responsive as we would like in handling taxpayer cases.
To improve our effectiveness and responsiveness, TAS has sought to develop policies for filing season (FS) 2020 that will enable us to (i) accept the cases of taxpayers who have the greatest need for TAS assistance and (ii) defer accepting cases where TAS assistance is not likely to be helpful and normal IRS processes will resolve the case in relatively short order. To do that, we met with officials from RIVO to better understand their plans, and we conducted an analysis of FS 2019 PRWVH cases to better understand the underlying problems and determine how we can best advocate for taxpayers who need our help. As a result of our review, TAS has implemented the following changes for this filing season.
The goal of these changes is to allow normal IRS return processing to work as anticipated, and for TAS to intervene in cases that require a greater advocacy effort or where a taxpayer’s rights are being impaired. Beyond assisting taxpayers in appropriate cases, TAS will continue to monitor the processing of returns held by the PRWVH program and recommend systemic improvements to reduce the adverse taxpayer impact of false positive results.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the National Taxpayer Advocate. The National Taxpayer Advocate presents an independent taxpayer perspective that does not necessarily reflect the position of the IRS, the Treasury Department, or the Office of Management and Budget.
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