The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has taken months to respond to concerns about identify theft, which has grown more than 1,200 percent since 2008, and ignored a letter sent by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) asking how successful the agency’s prevention policies are.
Rubio first sent a letter more than a year ago, out of concern for senior citizens in Florida who are targeted for identity theft at higher rates. The IRS did not respond until months later, and never followed up with the senator following his second letter last November.
"My Florida constituents, and particularly Florida’s senior citizens, are increasingly targeted victims of identify theft," Rubio wrote in his first letter on Feb. 15, 2013.
"As you know, tax-related identity fraud is especially rampant between the months of January and April, the height of the tax season," he said. "I am interested in learning what new actions the IRS is taking this year to ensure the American taxpayer is not victimized by fraudulent activity."
"With the peak of the 2013 tax season upon us, I believe that addressing and preventing tax-related identity theft is of the utmost importance," Rubio added. "I look forward to your reply addressing specific measures that will be taken this year to curtail identity theft-based tax refund fraud."
The IRS did not respond until four months later, on June 18. The agency detailed steps it had taken to address the issue, including budgeting $101 million and "broadening the scope" employee training.
The IRS had 37,000 of its employees take "awareness briefings" in advance of last year’s tax season, and doubled its staff dedicated to working identify theft cases, according to Beth Tucker, deputy commissioner for operations support at the IRS.
The IRS response also said it prevented five million returns that claimed $20 billion in fraudulent refunds in 2012, and had stopped 600,000 returns that claimed $3.6 billion last fiscal year, as of April 30, 2013.
Tucker also touted her agency’s partnership with the Justice Department, which caught 389 identify theft suspects in January 2013, and highlighted the IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) division, which has conducted more than 1,400 investigations since 2012.
Rubio referenced a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that revealed there were 641,690 identity theft cases in 2012. Tax-related identify theft has skyrocketed since 2008, when there were only 47,730 recorded incidents, an increase of 1,244 percent.
Rubio followed up with the agency on Nov. 19, 2013, requesting more information about the success of the IRS’ prevention efforts.
"How did the new filters designed to stop the identity theft/tax refund fraud work during the 2013 tax season?" Rubio asked. "I am interested to see the statistics regarding their effectiveness."
The senator also asked if the agency had reduced the amount of time it takes to review identify theft cases, which, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), takes an average of 312 days to resolve.
"I would appreciate a timely response on this important issue within 30 days from your receipt of this letter," Rubio wrote.
The IRS never responded, prompting Rubio to send a third letter on Tuesday.
"I am disappointed that I did not receive a reply to my November letter; however, I am giving your agency the benefit of the doubt since you only started service as Commissioner in December and the transition may have led to my correspondence being lost or overlooked," Rubio wrote to John Koskinen, the new IRS Commissioner.
"The success of efforts combatting identity theft at the IRS is imperative to the protection of American taxpayers, so I am writing you for a second time requesting a response that details the accuracy of such measures."
Recently the IRS has come under heavy scrutiny from House investigators, who have accused the agency of stonewalling the investigation into its targeting of conservative nonprofit groups. The IRS has not been timely in its responses, and blamed the loss of thousands of Lois Lerner’s emails on a computer crash and bureaucrats who threw away her hard drive.
Rubio asked the agency to respond to his letter within 30 days.