IRS chief to tackle identity theft

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman today promised lawmakers that within 90 days the service will develop a comprehensive program to fight identity theft.

IRS will train employees to assist taxpayers who have problems with identity theft by this fall, said Shulman, who has been in the post about three weeks.

IRS has begun to take an enterprise approach to identity theft and a data security issues, including creating the Office of Privacy, Information Protection and Data Security last summer, Shulman said. The service has updated procedures to make sure it treats identity theft victims consistently across the agency. IRS also is implementing an identity theft indicator that tags a taxpayer’s account once identity theft has been established and alert IRS that the account may require special attention.

“Once the new process is fully deployed, taxpayers should only have to provide identity theft documentation once,” he said. “This will allow a taxpayer to call the IRS to alert us immediately upon discovering that their identity has been stolen, instead of waiting until the IRS detects it,” he said.

For the innocent taxpayer, consequences of identity theft cause the delay or denial of refunds; the assessment of tax debts resulting from income reflected on the fraudulent filer’s return; and the requirement for victims to prove their identity to the IRS year after year, said Nina Olson, the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate.

Before January, IRS had no way to systematically identify taxpayers whose identities were stolen. Olson is concerned that IRS does not know how many taxpayers have been affected by identity theft.

IRS also needs to exert stronger oversight, determine policies and criteria that organizations must meet in its electronic filing program.

The IRS primarily focuses on combating identity theft through public outreach, said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Actions taken by the IRS in response to employment-related identity theft are not adequate to stop the unlawful use of the identity, he said in a report released April 9 about IRS response to identity theft.

TIGTA recommended that IRS coordinate internally to develop and implement a strategy to fight employment-related and tax fraud identity theft, including coordinating with other agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Social Security Administration to evaluate and investigate identity theft allegations related to tax administration.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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