The Internal Revenue Service is on the hunt for 304 Western New York taxpayers. But don't worry: It's because they haven't claimed federal income tax refunds that they have coming.
The agency released its annual list of local taxpayers with unclaimed tax refunds on Wednesday, hoping to find the rightful owners. In most cases, those taxpayers did not receive their refund because they moved and didn't notify the IRS of their new address, said agency spokesman Kevin B. McKeon.
In all, the IRS has refund checks averaging $582 for a total of 652 taxpayers in the agency's Western New York district, which includes the Buffalo, Rochester and Binghamton areas, McKeon said. Those refund checks, mostly from the 2006 tax year, are worth a total of $379,775.
The number of unclaimed refunds locally was up 41 percent this year, partly because of the telephone excise tax refund, which was a one-time payment that was available on 2006 federal tax returns, IRS officials said.
Most of the refunds went unclaimed after the checks were sent out by the IRS and then were returned as undeliverable. Government checks cannot be forwarded, even if a taxpayer has left a new address with the U.S. Postal Service.
"People get busy," McKeon said. "The main problem is that people move and forget to tell us."
Some refunds also go unclaimed because postal regulations 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.
Refunds also sometimes are 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.
Taxpayers can check to see if they have a missing refund check coming to them by visiting the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov, and using the "Where's my refund?" feature that is accessible from the home page. (See the list of unclaimed returns below).
A telephone version of the "Where's my refund?" feature is available by calling (800) 829-1954.
Taxpayers will be asked to enter their Social Security number, filing status and the amount of the refund from their 2006 return. The service then will show the status of the refund and, in some cases, give instructions on how to resolve delivery problems.
Having refunds deposited directly into a taxpayer's bank account can eliminate many of the problems leading to undelivered refund checks, McKeon said, while also reducing the risk of the refund being lost or stolen.
"Direct deposit is definitely the way to go in getting your refund," he said.