Responding to growing concerns over the scope of tax-related identity theft, the House has approved legislation to give victims more information about the crime. The House also took up a bill expanding disclosure of taxpayer information in cases involving missing children and the Ways and Means Committee approved a bill impacting disclosures by exempt organizations.
Stolen identity refund fraud
Tax-related identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the personal identification of another to obtain a fraudulent refund. According to the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), tax-related identity theft continues to grow despite efforts to uncover and apprehend criminals. In 2014, the IRS estimated that it prevented the issuance of nearly $25 billion in fraudulent refunds. However, criminals obtained more than $5 billion in fraudulent refunds.
More often than not, individuals are unware they have been victims until they file their return and discover that a return has already been filed by an identity thief. In some cases, the IRS may send a letter to the taxpayer reporting that the agency identified a suspicious return using the individual’s personal information.
On May 19, the House approved the Stolen Identity Refund Fraud Prevention Act of 2016 (HR 3832). HR 3832 would require the IRS to notify victims of tax-related identity theft as soon as practicable that his or her personal information was used without authorization. The IRS also would be required to notify victims of tax-related identity theft of any criminal changes brought against the alleged identity thief.
Additionally, the bill would create a centralized point of contact for victims of identity theft. The centralized point of contact may be a team or subset of specially trained employees who can work across functions to resolve problems for the victim and who is accountable for handling the case to completion. The makeup of the team may change as required to meet IRS needs, but the procedures must ensure continuity of records and case history and may require notice to the taxpayer in appropriate instances.
The bill also would make willful misappropriation of a taxpayer’s identity for the purpose of making any return a felony. Under the bill, this offense would be punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a corporation), imprisonment for up to five years, or both, plus prosecution costs.
The House approved the bipartisan Recovering Missing Children Bill (HR 3209) on May 10. The bill amends the Tax Code to grant law enforcement access to taxpayer information while investigating missing and exploited children. Under Code Sec. 6103, return information is confidential.
The Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Bill (HR 5053) limits the contributor information that must be reported by a Code Sec. 501(c) on its annual return. Generally, the IRS may not require an exempt organization to report the name, address, or other identifying information of any contributor to the organization with respect to any contribution, grant, bequest, devise, or gift of money or property, regardless of amount. The bill is awaiting action by the full House after having been approved by the Ways and Means Committee.