Mikulski Fights to Protect Families from Being Victims of Tax Identity Fraud in Hearing with Treasury Department and IRS
NOTE TO ASSIGNMENT EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: Senator Mikulski’s remarks are available for broadcast quality download.
Audio of Senator Mikulski’s remarks is available – here.
IRS recently released ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of tax scams for 2016 – available here
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today continued her fight to protect families from being victims of tax identity fraud. The Senator today spoke at a Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget requests for fiscal year (FY) 2017, which featured testimony from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George.
“I’m outraged that hardworking people are being swindled, harassed and terrified by scammers and schemers. Seniors, families and all hardworking people need a government on their side when it comes to taking on tax fraud,” Senator Mikulski said. “I myself was recently targeted. But it’s not about me, it’s about all the people over the age of 65 that continue to be targeted. I’m standing up for the little guys and gals and fighting against tax fraud criminals and bad actors.”
Senator Mikulski continued her fight to protect families from being victims of tax identity fraud. According to the IRS, since 2013 over one million Americans have received scam phone calls, and criminals have managed to con almost $30 million from victims.
Since 2011, the IRS has faced repeated budget cuts. These cuts have negatively impacted customer service and enforcement, with more than half the calls to IRS going unanswered in the last year. Between 2007 to 2015, enforcement revenue has dropped by 10 percent. According to the IRS, cyber criminals attempt to breach its taxpayer database one million times each day.
Last year in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (Public Law 114-113), Senator Mikulski fought to include an additional $290 million in federal funds for IRS to improve customer service and prevent tax identity fraud.
Senator Mikulski’s Q&A with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen follows:
“Mr. Commissioner, I want to thank you for what you do and I also want to thank the thousands of people who work for the IRS. I’m very proud of the fact that IRS is headquartered in Maryland. And when I move around, this is what they say to me: ‘Barb, help us do our job.’ ‘Barb, we want to be able to collect the taxes.’ ‘Barb, we want to answer those phones. What can you do to get us the money?’
“They’re telling me to tell Congress to do our job so that they can do their job. I hear it as I move around, and I’m just impressed by their dedication. Because that’s what we have to do: collect the taxes that are owed - $385 billion dollars. That’s outrageous that that’s uncollected. And it’s uncollected because some people avoid and some people don’t know. And then it’s to help the taxpayer, so many with over 150 million returns being filed, 10 million letters, five million visits to walk sites and 100 million phone calls to IRS. And then there’s the schemers and the scammers.
“People over a certain age, put me in that category, are now the victims of these targeted scams. I myself was most recently targeted. I got this phone call saying, ‘You are being sued by IRS. All you need to do is give us your Social Security number to validate who you are. By the way give us your credit card number, the pin number and your bank account number so that you can do the electronic transfer.’ Well it’s not that Barb Mikulski was targeted, it’s all the other people over the age of 65 that are being targeted.
“I am outraged that hardworking people who want to comply are now being terrified. My question to you, Mr. Commissioner – I mean I took action, turned to proper law enforcement, to the Attorney General, the State of Maryland, all of those things. What would you advise the taxpayers that if they get this kind of scheme, scum effort, to actually defraud them, what would you recommend? What action should they take?
“Because while we’re working on big budget we’ve got to remember the little people. So what tips and news could you give today on how to help them?”
“For the last two years since I’ve been Commissioner, we’ve tried to warn taxpayers across the country. We put out a list of what we call the ‘Dirty Dozen’ at the start of each filing season. On the top of that list is phone scams. So what we’re trying to do is warn people and tell them: (A) If you’re surprised to be hearing from us, you’re probably not hearing from us. (B) We never threaten you. If somebody threatens you, take the number, let the Federal Trade Commission Law Enforcement know, let the Inspector General know. The Inspector General we work with closely has done a wonderful job of tracking and moving forward toward prosecution of people when we can find them, and disrupting those systems. And it’s been an important partnership we have with them. But it is a low-cost of entry crime – all they need is a set of phone numbers and they just robo dial them as much as they can, and they can mask the call so it looks like it’s coming from Washington where the IRS headquarters are.
“I got one of those and I thought, well I bet I can talk to somebody at the IRS about this. We tracked it down and it came from Pakistan. And in fact number of these calls are obviously generated from abroad.”
“Mr. Commissioner right now there are people watching this hearing. How can we communicate what people should do if they get this kind of call?”
“Turn that information, you can go to our website – www.IRS.gov, call the Inspector General, call the Federal Trade Commission, call your local law enforcement. Most importantly, the IRS will never have you make a payment to a bank account or a debit card. The IRS will have you make a payment to the United States Treasury. If somebody wants money for someplace else, don’t send it.”
“Now this also goes to the ability to answer your phone. So the phone is often left unanswered because of this. Since 2011, you have had six years of consecutive annual budget cuts because of Congress. How would you characterize the funding request to deal with customer service? Presuming most people want to comply. Most people have legitimate questions, some people are just scared because they get these called, and some people are starting a business for the first time. Do you feel that the request that you’ve submitted this year would begin to deal with this? Sixty-two percent of these calls were unanswered in 2015.”
“Yes. We already can see the impact of having additional people to help with taxpayers. We’ve lost over 3,000 call center representatives over the last five years. And the question, you don’t have people, you’re not going to be able to answer the phones.
“This year, thanks to the funding from the Congress we’ve been able to add 1,000 people. Our level of service, we think, is going to go up. During the filing season into the mid-60s as opposed to the low-40s. It will still be low for the year because for the first three months we didn’t have the money, but we do think that even with that, the level for the year will be 47-50 percent as opposed to 37 percent.
“If the president’s budget is funded in these categories, allowing us for both user fees and regular funding, we think we can get to a level next year for the entire year, at 70 percent. Our goal would be to go back to where we were in the mid-2000s, where our level of service was 80 percent and the waiting time was less than three minutes. In other words, everyone ought to be able to call the IRS, get an immediate answer and get someone who is trained to answer their question.
“We’re moving in that direction thanks to the additional funding, but it is a simple equation of: if we have additional resources, we will hire the people, we’ll be able to answer the calls.”
Matt Jorgenson & Alanna Wellspeak (Mikulski)
Mara Stark-Alcalá (Appropriations)
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