The Internal Revenue Service plans to make improvements in the way it assists victims of tax-related identity theft after a new government report says further improvements are needed.

As part of the IRS’s strategy to reduce the taxpayer burden caused by identity theft, the IRS formed the Identity Protection Specialized Unit in October 2008. The IPSU is a dedicated unit organized to help victims of identity theft get their questions answered and receive assistance in getting their issues resolved quickly and effectively.

However, in May 2012, TIGTA reported that the IPSU was not achieving its original purpose of providing each identity theft victim with a single assistor to answer questions and resolve his or her issues. In the new report TIGTA is following up to see if the IPSU is now meeting its goals. The objective of the review was to determine whether the IPSU results in a streamlined process to help resolve identity theft cases and provides victims with a single point of contact.

In its review, though, TIGTA found the IRS no longer provides the majority of identity theft victims with an single point of contact at the IPSU because, according to the IRS, budgetary constraints prevent it from doing so. In addition, the IRS did not always issue the required acknowledgement and case status letters to taxpayers or effectively conduct research to identify and assist taxpayers who submit identity theft claim documentation without their Social Security Number. Finally, a comprehensive process has not been established to ensure that IPSU customer service representatives timely address taxpayer voicemail messages.

“The IRS should provide quality customer service to all taxpayers, including those who have been victimized by identity thieves, and this service should include mailing timely acknowledgement and case status letters,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “It is imperative that the IRS make every effort to answer the questions and address the problems of these victims efficiently and effectively.”

TIGTA recommended the IRS ensure that the required acknowledgement and case status letters are sent in a timely manner to victims of identity theft. Cases that have been submitted without a complete Social Security Number should be properly researched, TIGTA suggested. In addition, the IRS should develop a process in which customer service representatives will respond to taxpayers’ voicemail messages in a timely way. The IRS agreed with all three recommendations and plans to take action to correct the problems.

In response to the report, Debra Holland, the commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division said the IRS already has 3,000 employees working directly on identity theft-related cases and has trained more than 35,000 employees who regularly work with taxpayers so they can help identity theft situations when they arise. The IRS has also recently reorganized the unit.

“We have recently completed the centralization of our victim assistance work under our new Identity Theft Victim Assistance organization, consolidating work that was being done by four different parts of the IRS into one business operating division,” Holland wrote. “This new structure eliminates operational redundancies and provides end-to-end accountability and responsibility for IDT [identity theft] victim assistance by aligning policy and operations within the same organization.”

She added that the IRS is also focusing on prevention by enhancing its ability to detect and stop identity theft refund fraud at the point of filing to prevent taxpayers from becoming victims.

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