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IRS should speed efforts to reissue refunds stolen in identity theft scams

Putting together a tax return and sending it on time to the Internal Revenue Service is stressful enough. Worrying that someone has stolen your identity and your refund should not be adding to that stress.

There have been many stories about the various scams thieves have been using. In one shakedown making the rounds, fraudsters have taken to telephoning innocent people and tricking them into believing they owe the government money – which must be wired immediately.

Now, comes one more thing to think about while waiting on the refund: It may never get to the correct person.

Indeed, thieves may have already stolen that hard-earned refund. In Western New York alone, an estimated 4,800 tax filers found this nasty surprise. Even worse is the amount of time it takes to resolve the issue.

According to reports, it can take the IRS about 300 days to resolve tax fraud cases that result from thieves stealing Social Security numbers and then using those numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and collect the refunds.

Some of the cases take far longer to resolve, sometimes up to three years. That just makes the crime even worse for the victimized taxpayer.

Most folks count on their refunds for everything from paying down bills to taking a much-needed vacation. Certainly not to fall victim to thieves and then endure an excruciating wait to get their money. This is why Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is absolutely on target in supporting a bill introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., that would require the IRS to establish a single point of contact for fraud victims and cut the resolution time to 90 days.

These days the IRS is working overtime to try to comply with constantly updated regulations while coping with a shrinking budget, an issue Congress must work to resolve. The IRS can’t be forced to just stand by while entrepreneurial and technologically savvy thieves prey on innocent citizens – 70,000 in New York alone last year, according to the IRS. According to Schumer’s office, an estimated 3,307 Erie County taxpayers were victimized, along with 769 in Niagara County, 478 in Chautauqua County and 238 in Cattaraugus County.

People need to do what they can to protect themselves against identity theft, but sometimes even the smartest people don’t stand a chance against criminals cashing in on stolen identities. The government should not compound the loss by making taxpayers wait months and months to get their money.