The Internal Revenue Service does not always properly authenticate the identity of taxpayers calling its toll-free assistance lines before providing them with confidential tax account information, according to a new government report.

The report, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, found that taxpayers who call the IRS toll-free lines are at risk of having their personally identifiable information inadvertently overheard and disclosed during conversations with IRS employees. TIGTA auditors listened to a sample of audio-taped calls between IRS employees and taxpayers and were able to hear parts of assistors' conversations with other callers.

IRS guidelines require assistors to fully authenticate callers before assisting them. Assistors do not always authenticate taxpayers who call the IRS's toll-free telephone number for tax account information.

From a statistical sample of 180 contact recordings, assistors did not properly follow procedures when authenticating 29 callers, increasing the risk of unauthorized disclosures. This included nine assistors who did not ask callers the two additional authentication questions when the situation required, eight assistors who did not ask callers all five required authentication questions, and 12 assistors who did not authenticate callers for various other reasons.

TIGTA auditors were able to hear parts of assistors' conversations with other callers in 48 of the 180 sampled calls.

This happened because assistors did not put callers on hold when they were researching the taxpayers' accounts. For 26 calls, assistors repeated the Social Security number back to the caller on the telephone.

Millions of taxpayers call the IRS toll-free telephone service every year seeking answers to tax account questions. IRS employees are supposed to ask a series of questions to verify a caller's identity before answering questions about the taxpayer's account. This is done to protect the confidentiality of tax returns and return information. The information used to authenticate the taxpayer's identity, including their name, address, Social Security number, and date and place of birth, is considered to be personally identifiable information.

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