Bipartisan legislation from U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) to better protect American taxpayers’ identities from theft received swift approval from the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on April 11.
“As we know, identity theft is becoming more and more prevalent,” Rep. Paulsen told fellow House Ways and Means Committee members prior to the panel’s unanimous vote. “But there are actions we can take here in Congress to protect taxpayers and their information from identity theft.”
Rep. Paulsen was referring to H.R. 5437, which he and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced on April 9 to expand the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Identity Protection (IP) Personal Identification Number (PIN) program. The IRS program currently operates on a pilot basis in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., according to a summary provided by Rep. Paulsen’s staff.
The optional program makes a six-digit IP PIN available to taxpayers from the U.S. Treasury Secretary, adding another ID verification layer when tax returns are filed, according to the summary. The program would be expanded nationwide over five years under H.R. 5437 by providing all taxpayers the option to sign up for an IP PIN.
“For a criminal, the scam is simple: steal a taxpayer’s Social Security number, file a fraudulent claim in their name, and collect the refund,” Rep. Paulsen said during the committee hearing. “For the taxpayer, unwinding the mess is far tougher.”
Rep. Paulsen said the IP PIN will “make this scam a little bit harder.”
Under the pilot program thus far, the IRS successfully identified 32,000 fraudulent tax returns during the first two months of 2016, Rep. Paulsen said during the committee meeting, and the Government Accountability Office reported attempts by identity thieves to illegally claim $14.5 billion in taxes in the 2015 tax year. “Surely thousands more slip through the cracks,” he added, calling the situation “a nightmare for victims.”
Senior citizens, in particular, are “hit hardest” because they’re “frequently victimized without their knowledge,” the congressman said. “We owe it to our seniors to protect them against this fraud.”
Rep. DelBene pointed out that as millions of Americans file tax returns this month, lawmakers should remember their responsibilities to support the IRS in providing enhanced security measures that protect taxpayers’ identities against criminals who keep getting smarter.
“This bipartisan measure is an important step toward making sure that come filing time, American families can get their returns processed without learning that a thief has already done it for them and stolen their money, identity, and peace of mind,” the congresswoman said.