Following a surge in suspicious tax filings and IRS impersonation scams this year, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing Thursday to explore what Congress and taxpayers can do to be better about spotting and preventing fraud.
State tax authorities, the Department of Justice and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration are set to testify before the committee about the fraud they’ve seen this year. Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he hopes the hearing, which starts at 10 a.m., will lead to better protections for taxpayers.
“Currently, millions of taxpayers are victims of identity theft, abusive phone scams, and fraudulent refund claims,” Hatch said in a statement in advance of the hearing. “I hope to explore how the government can better protect taxpayers and sensitive taxpayer information, while raising awareness for how taxpayers can take precautions to protect themselves.”
As The Washington Post reported last week, a spike in suspicious tax filings earlier this year raised questions about how much online tax preparation providers such as TurboTax should do to prevent fraud. The cases shed light on the struggles that tax officials and private tax prep companies face in trying to keep up with the increasingly sophisticated methods used by online criminals.
Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, said last week that it has been contacted by Congress, the Justice Department and other federal agencies investigating tax fraud.
At least some state tax authorities will raise questions about what can be done to make it more difficult for fraudsters to file bogus tax returns to steal refunds. John Valentine, the chair of the Utah State Tax Commission, plans to raise questions about a payment option that allows taxpayers to pull tax preparation fees from their refunds, said Charlie Roberts, a spokesman for the Utah State Tax Commission.
When used by thieves, the option inadvertently leaves taxpayers and state tax authorities on the hook for the filing fees for phony returns and lowers the costs for scam artists. Valentine will also call for better communication between the IRS and state tax authorities when it comes to trends in tax fraud and methods that scam artists use to steal refunds, Roberts said.
Timothy Camus, deputy inspector general for investigations for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, is expected to provide current information on the IRS’s efforts to protect and prevent identity theft, according to a TIGTA spokesman. Camus will also draw attention to a rise in scam artists who impersonate IRS agents and intimidate taxpayers into making payments.
As of the end of January, the IRS had received 290,000 complaints about such calls that resulted in $14 million in payments by victims. The problem has grown “dramatically,” with taxpayers filing between 9,000 and 12,000 related complaints a week, the spokesman said.