Friday, March 29, 2019

IRS - not here to help

In Saturday’s mail was a letter from the IRS. Officially, it was form LTR 5071C. The letter advised me that they suspected fraud involving identity theft with my 2018 tax return. I can truly appreciate the diligence the IRS showed in protecting me against identity theft. I have had my identity stolen before and can tell you from that sad personal experience it is not fun trying to straighten everything out. (However, to be perfectly fair about the matter, the thieves were ultimately kind enough to return my identity to me, although I thought doing it with a sympathy card was a bit tacky.)

According to the letter the entire matter could be easily straightened out with a simple visit to the IRS website to verify my identity. Wow! Usually anything involving the government is a long, drawn out ordeal. Not this time Bunky, it would only be a simple matter of going online. Oh, glorious day!

With a happy, pattering heart I typed in the URL for IRS identity verification, only to be bitch-slapped with a digital brick wall. I was informed I had to create an account with the IRS. Create an account? I don’t have one? What do they call everything I have submitted to them for the past 47 years associated with my social security number? I’d say there should be more than just an account. Seems to me I should be in line for at least an engagement ring.

At the “Create an Account” page one is assured it will only take a few minutes. It all starts out with the usual information: name and SSN. Immediately after that, a trick question is thrown at you: “What was the address used on your last submitted tax return?”

I believe a judge’s ruling is needed on that question. Are they talking the very last SUBMITTED return, as in 2018 income tax, or the last ACCEPTED tax return, as in 2017 income tax? It was a stab in the dark, and I went for the former – at least I thought that’s what I typed in before clicking the enter button. I was immediately informed that I did not exist but might want to try proving my existence again. It seemed ironic the IRS told me I didn’t exist, but on the other hand maybe I didn’t. After all, there was an excellent chance I had been stolen. No matter, there was a chance to redeem myself.
I do too exist!

I re-entered the information being very careful to ensure the address was entered correctly and was immediately informed my SSN didn’t match. Well, it’s hard to verify the SSN entry when only dots are displayed. Not a problem, we can do this again. Being ever so careful, the information was entered a third time, reviewed as best I could and submitted.

Well, nuts! I still didn’t exist. Having struck out I would have to wait 24 hours before playing “Give That Answer” again. At that point the decision to call the IRS directly on Monday was made.

So, first thing Monday morning, before coffee or anything, I called the contact number listed on my LTR 5071C. Again, I want a judge’s ruling: is it really okay to suggest immediately upon answering calls on a Monday morning that the caller might want to try back Wednesday or Thursday? Is the hold time that long? Is everyone that hungover from the weekend? Is everyone that zeroed in on the donuts before they become stale? More importantly, why didn’t I have that message option when I was working?

Being fearless, I decided to hold and see what happened. In less than thirty seconds my call was answered. The lady did not sound happy that I hadn’t taken the Wednesday/Thursday option. In fact, she sounded not only hungover, but like she had also missed out on the donuts. I explained that I had received an LTR 5071C and needed to verify my identity.

“Have you gone to the identity verification website?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am. According to you folks, I don’t exist.”

“I guess we’ll have to do this over the phone, then” she said. Quickly adding in a threatening manner, “If your answers don’t match my information, you will be required to appear in person at your local IRS office to verify your identity.”

I tried to sound pleasant, as though talking to someone from the IRS was the highlight of the new millennium for me. “Yes, ma’am. I’m ready.”

“Do you have the previous year’s return in front of you?”

“Yes, I have my 2017 return right here.”

“No. Your 2018 return.”

“Yes. I have both 2017 and 2018.”

“Both 2017 and 2018? Good.” Then she tried to trip me up with, “And all the supporting documentation… W-2’s, 1099’s and other supporting information?”

She made it sound as though she might make a few things up, but I assured her I had mounds, in fact a veritable plethora, of supporting documentation. And so, the Inquisition began. It started out with simple information: my name, SSN, date of birth, mother’s name, father’s name and current address. I was waiting for something really tricky, like who won the 1953 World Series, but instead she started asking about the returns.

“Who did you get your W-2 from?”

We file married joint return on our taxes, so I answered, “We’re retired, we don’t get W-2’s.”

“I’m not asking about WE,” she snapped, “I’m asking about YOU. Who did you get your W-2 from?”

“The answer is the same, ma’am. I am retired and don’t get a W-2.”

“Well, what did you get to show your primary income?”

Briefly, ever so briefly, the response, “A paper bag that previously held money from the drugs I sold,” passed through my mind. However, fear of complicating matters forced out the answer, “A 1099.”

“What kind of 1099, and where did it come from?”

And so, it continued, on and on, until the contents of both bulging envelopes containing the past two tax returns had been disgorged and spread out upon my desk.

“Okay, it would appear we can verify your identity,” she finally conceded. “We can now proceed to process your tax return. It will be nine weeks before processing is complete, and we can issue your refund. If you do not hear something in nine weeks call our support line.”

“Did I hear you correctly? Did you say nine weeks? It only takes six weeks to process if a return is mailed in! Mine was filed electronically.”

“You don’t understand. Your return was frozen, placed on hold. It will be nine weeks to process it,” she explained slowly, as if talking to a small child. And then added, “It used to take up to 180 days to verify identities, so really, things are much better now.”

Funny, things don’t feel much better.

What I'll look like by the time the refund gets here.


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