To recap: I filed well ahead of the deadline. But I e-filed, and a couple days later received a response that there was a problem with my Social Security number. So I called the IRS help line to figure out what I needed to do. They told me to print out the return and send it through the mail. So I did.
Months passed. Nothing happened. I called a couple times over the summer. They said my return was still being investigated, but they couldn’t give me any details. I asked if there was anything I could do to expedite the process. They said to call back if I haven’t heard anything in 90 days. Both times, I made sure the IRS knew that I have moved since I filed my return, and gave them my new address.
Fast forward to last month. I called a fourth time to see what’s happened to my return. The guy on the help line again said that it’s still being investigated. But this time, he also said the IRS did send me a notice about my account in early May, and that I ignored it. I told him I wouldn’t have done that. I was waiting for my refund. He asked if I’ve moved. I replied, with exasperation, that I had moved in late May, and that I have noted this and given my new address each time I’ve previously called. He said he had no record of my new address, but that he would change it in the system.
Of course, even they did send a notice, I didn’t move until the end of May. So I still should have received it. I also filed a change of address form with the U.S. Post Office. All of my other mail was forwarded (save, curiously, for a parking ticket notice from the D.C. government. But that’s another story). Anyway, IRS guy says he will generate a new letter telling me the status of my return (he again says he can’t tell me what’s wrong with my return over the phone). He says I should receive it within a week. I have him read back my new address and confirm that this is the address to which the notice will be sent. All is correct.
As of last week, the letter still hadn’t arrived. So last week, I called back. This time IRS lady finally told me the source of the original problem: Last March, someone else filed a return under my Social Security number. The IRS received that return before they received mine. She then said, “You should have sent proof of your identity and an identity theft form back in May, when we sent you a notice asking for it.” I replied, trying with all my might to avoid using profanity, “No one ever told me what the problem was. It is November. This is the first time I’ve been told that someone else filed under my Social Security number. I never received any letter in May. Which is what I told the guy I talked to last month, and everyone I talked to before that. I also never received the notice I was supposed to have received within a week of my last call.”
After much hemming, hawing, checking, and putting me on hold, here’s apparently what happened: Someone else filed a return using my Social Security number. So because there was already a return on file under my number, my return was rejected. According to the woman I spoke with today, when I called the help line to ask what to do after the initial rejection, they should have told me to send proof of identity when I sent my return by snail mail. But they didn’t. She also said there was no reason why they couldn’t have given me an explanation the multiple other times I called. I asked, “So why didn’t they?” She answered, “They should have.” Well, okay then.
So what about that letter last May, the one the IRS guy last month said I should have responded to, subtly implying that this was all my fault?
It seems that when more than one return is filed under the same Social Security number, the address on the return the IRS receives first is the address they associate with the account. That’s where all the notices go. Even when it makes no sense to send notices to that address.
So when I sent in my return via mail, and it didn’t have the proof of identity with it (because no one at the IRS help line told me to do so), they processed the letter as just another tax return, not a return re-filed because of a problem with a taxpayer ID problem. When they realized someone else had already filed under my number, they sent the response letter asking me to prove my ID to the address of the person who wrongly filed under my Social Security number. I asked the IRS lady why they would do this. I can understand sending a request for proof of ID to both addresses. But it’s rather stupid to send a response to my tax return to the address of the other person. Especially if it’s a response asking for proof of ID. She again replied, automaton-like, that all correspondence goes out to the address associated with the account. Even, I guess, when it makes absolutely no sense to do so.
As for the letter I should have received within a week of my call on October 6, I finally received it on Saturday, November 6. Good enough for government work.
So I now have to verify my identity by sending in copies of my driver’s license, passport, etc. I also have to send in another copy of my return, but also note (she said use a sharpie and write in all caps if necessary) that this is a copy of a return already filed, lest some dolt at the agency actually mistake it for a third, separate person trying to file under my Social Security number.
Even after I send all of this, I was told it could be 30 days before I get a response. And that’s just for the acknowledgment. It’ll likely be well past Tax Day 2011 before they sort this out and issue my 2009 refund. At this point I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I ever get it.
I keep pretty close track of my credit, and it doesn’t appear that anyone has stolen my identity. The most likely explanation is that someone with a Social Security number similar to mine accidentally transposed a couple numbers (for all I know, that person is fighting like hell to figure out what’s going on, too). I obviously don’t fault the IRS for the fact that someone else filed under my number. But I sure as hell fault them for everything that’s happened since. If someone had stolen my identity, and if I didn’t regularly check my credit, the thief could have done a hell of a lot of damage by now. The IRS could have warned me about it all last May.
The punchline is that as I was filling out my taxes this year, I got a “tip” suggesting that because I have multiple sources of income, some of which aren’t subject to withholding (speeches, freelance work, etc.), I should consider paying my taxes quarterly, and may suffer a penalty next year if I don’t. God forbid the government doesn’t get its money forthwith. But when they have your money? You’ll get it when they’re damned good and ready.
It’s not a huge amount of money. I try to adjust my withholding to come close to breaking even. But it’s enough to make me irritated that I still haven’t gotten it back. And yeah, it’s also the principle of it, knowing that not only is this incompetent bureaucracy making me jump through hoops to get back my money the government is holding, but my tax dollars are paying for my privilege of jumping through aforementioned hoops.
I’d rather a mugger have just taken the money from me. At least a mugger doesn’t bill you for his services.