Sunday, August 26, 2012

Will implicating those on public assistance as primary suspects hurt those who need it most? My answer is - YES.

If the statistics are true, then you still cannot blame 100% of the people who use assistance.

Blame the ones who commit the crime. (If caught) make them ineligible from ever using assistance in the future. But just because 80-90% of this particular crime are on assistance, doesn't mean you can vilify 100% of the group - because there are plenty of people who just need a boost, and do not (nor intend to ever) live their lives permanently on the dole.  I see this as the start to another kind of class warfare that we do not need introduced during such hard economic times.

This article does not overtly incite this type of thinking, but, I do see it as the precursor to what can go down a very ugly road.

20 Aug 2012
Herald Tribune
Tax refund fraud linked to some living on welfare

Last summer, the state sent a notice to a felon's apartment, reminding Jerry Myea Lee that his food stamps would dry up if he did not reapply.

The form letter spit out other offers. Did he need child support? A telephone discount? How about an Earned Income Tax Credit? Lee, then 36, kept the paper.

As a teenager, he had grown 10 inches eating state-paid food in prison. Each time he got in trouble and pleaded poverty -- robbery, then drugs and guns -- the public paid for his lawyers. His state and federal incarcerations cost taxpayers almost $300,000.

He was a free man on July 6, 2011, cruising around Tampa in a rented Dodge Charger, when, during a traffic stop, a police dog got a whiff of weed.

In a bag behind the driver's seat, officers found Lee's food stamps letter -- and $30,980 in cash. Eleven days later, he was caught in Orlando with a U.S. Treasury check made out to someone else.
Tampa police suspect his cash had roots in tax refund fraud, which has drained billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury.

If so, it came from the same beleaguered source that has paid to feed, house and defend Lee all these years. You.

Tampa police estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the tax refund fraud they encounter is committed by people on public assistance.

"The people who are benefiting most from our taxes are the ones doing it," said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Per my last update, the IRS was supposed to contact me by August 23rd with an update from my case worker on the current status of my refund issue.

Naturally... no dice.

Thus, I called the IRS on Friday to diligently follow-up and determine my next course of action - or rather, inaction.

You can imagine my surprise when I was connected with a very pleasant and helpful customer service rep (Mrs. Patron, Cust Svc #0678121).  She was able to clarify a few issues on my case, and FINALLY delivered some happy news (although we'll see if it actually pans out!):

1) I was never assigned a case worker. I was a bit peeved to learn this, however, she informed me that the previous rep I talked to was not providing accurate information, and while I was in the window for a customer service rep to be assigned, my case was actually in the process of being resolved vice just investigated.

2) The fraudulent return is currently in the process of being actively deleted from my account. The have verified my information from my affidavit and my previous claim history.

3) My tax return in being processed, and is in the 6-8 week window for normal processing of paper-filed claims. Mrs Patron indicated that if I have not received my return by September 21st, I need to contact the IRS again.

4) My account is flagged and will be monitored for another 3 years.  Ultimately, my thought is that they SHOULD HAVE CAUGHT THE FRAUDULENT RETURN IN THE FIRST PLACE. Since my information has been verified, all future returns will be placed on hold, a confirmation letter will be sent to my home address, and I must return this notice to identify if I indeed filed a return on XX day, for XX $$$.

I asked about having an additional tax identifier or pin number issued for future returns, and the IRS said "no". I'm not sure I believe that part, and it deserves some additional research. But overall I'm happy with this idea of multi-layer confirmation that my return is in fact being filed by me, myself, and I.

I guess I'm not putting too much faith in this process. Its great to have positive news... but until I have my tax return in hand, I'll question everything, take notes, and report my experience. Its hard to take the word of an agency that has already botched the tax fraud issue so poorly!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Editorial: Dispiriting findings in federal tax-fraud probe

10 Aug 2012
Tampa Bay Online
Dispiriting findings in federal tax-fraud probe

The Internal Revenue Service assures us members of the taxpaying public that it is trying harder to stop sending our money to identity thieves, but a recent audit leaves us far from reassured.
The recent review found that the IRS missed more than $5.2 billion in fraudulent refunds last tax year. More specifically, they were "potentially" fraudulent returns, because relatively few of the larcenists have been caught and prosecuted. Whatever else it may have missed, the IRS says it did stop $6.5 billion in fraud.

If both estimates are correct, then the crooks are batting .444 in getting big refunds. That's disheartening. The odds of scoring an IRS payout are much too high.

The IRS didn't volunteer these statistics. The audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration was requested by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

He is responding to complaints from Tampa Police and other officials here that phony tax returns are bringing windfall returns to local crooks. Based on the number of obviously fishy filings, Tampa appears to lead the nation in the prevalence of tax-refund fraud.

Fortunately, Tampa police and postal authorities here have been unusually aggressive in sounding the alarm about the network of sophisticated criminals who have learned that the IRS can be tricked into sending money now and asking questions only later.

Nelson has proposed a bill that would restrict access to Social Security numbers and allow for better cooperation between local police and federal agents. It's a start but won't plug all the holes in a system with such a big temptation to cheat. As long as a major part of the federal government's aid to individuals is delivered through the income-tax system, the swindle will continue. That's demoralizing.

Even if an enforcement crackdown succeeds in Tampa, the tax-cheat gangs can easily relocate.
And the incentive to cheat could increase. Many conservatives argue that the best way to provide broader health coverage is to mail qualified households cash incentives through the IRS rather than to penalize those who lack coverage, as is the controversial approach under new health care law. Such an expansion of the possibilities for fraud doesn't make sense to us as long as the current system is hemorrhaging so much money,

The scale of the loss is to all honest taxpayers extremely frustrating. One home in Lansing, Mich., sent in 2,137 returns and got back $3.3 million in refunds.

From another single home in Chicago came 765 returns for the 2011 tax year resulting in $903,084 in refunds. A home in Belle Glade sent in 741 returns and got $1 million. A post office box in Orlando was linked to 703 returns and $1 million in refunds. So when we hear that one house in Tampa sent in 518 returns and got back $1.8 million, it doesn't sound all that unusual.

We would like to think that if the IRS got 2,137 requests for different refunds from a single house, it would at least take a look at the address on Google Earth and see if looks like a place where a few thousand people could actually live.

Tampa Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis told Tampa Tribune reporter Elaine Silverstrini, "It's something we have been talking about for going on three years and felt like no one was listening." To taxpayers, that's discouraging.

The IRS, never known as a chatty agency, has had little to say on the record about this issue. Clearly, it needs more manpower to discover and prosecute fraud, and a lesser role as the nation's welfare banker.