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177 WNYERS HAVE UNCLAIMED INCOME TAX REFUNDS WAITING

The Internal Revenue Service is waiting to hear from 177 Western New York residents who have not claimed their tax refund checks.

The checks, which cover refunds from the 2001-2003 tax years, were sent out by the IRS and then were returned as undeliverable, mostly because the taxpayers moved and didn't notify the IRS of their new address.

About 85,000 taxpayers nationwide are owed refunds totaling more than $73 million, with more than 6,000 of those residing in New York. The average unclaimed refund is for $979, but the largest unclaimed refund in New York is worth about $53,000, said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has put the names, towns and zip codes of the New York taxpayers on his Web site, www.schumer.senate.gov.

The taxpayers' addresses and the amount of the refunds are not posted on the Web site. Taxpayers without Internet access can call Schumer's local office at 846-4111 or the IRS at (800) 829-1040.

"These unclaimed checks are like finding a $20 bill in your pocket, except the average check is for almost $1,000," Schumer said.

Most of the refund checks were unclaimed because the taxpayer did not file a change of address form (Form 8822) with the IRS. Postal regulations also require that government checks be returned when taxpayers change their names, such as through marriage or divorce, and the check is not made out in their new name.

"The best thing taxpayers can do to avoid falling into that trap is to use direct deposit," said Kevin B. McKeon, an IRS spokesman. "And if you do move, make sure you notify us and the Post Office."

Refunds also sometimes go unclaimed when the address on the tax return is illegible or incorrect or when a taxpayer dies and the estate's executor is unaware that a refund went unclaimed.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com