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IRS Less Responsive to ID Theft Victims Due to Budget Cuts

Dropped calls and long hold times may sound like business as usual at the IRS. However, amid budget cuts, this tax season saw worse-than-expected IRS customer service for possible ID theft victims and other taxpayers seeking assistance, Forbes reports.

If the IRS suspects a tax return may be bogus, the taxpayer legitimately associated with the identity is sent a letter with instructions to call the Tax Payer Protection program. This past tax season only 17 percent of the 2.9 million phone calls made to this program got through to an IRS employee. Those who did reach a person spent an average of 28 minutes on hold first.

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Taxpayers who received letters asking for identity confirmation did have the option of going online and answering questions about their identity--an option that likely wouldn't appeal to many who feared they were victims of ID theft.

During three consecutive weeks from late-February to March, the IRS answered less than 10 percent of calls from potential identity theft victims. Average hold time was an hour for the first week of February.

With identity theft on the rise, the IRS froze twice as many tax returns this past tax season compared with the prior year. At least one-third of these 1.6 million returns frozen due to suspected ID theft were legitimate.

In addition to increased concerns over identity theft, new filing requirements associated with the Affordable Health Care Act also increased the need for IRS customer service, the Star Tribune points out.

Overall, 37 percent of taxpayers made it through to IRS customer service during the 2015 tax filing season, a major decreased from 71 percent the previous year. "Courtesy disconnects," which is when the switchboard hangs up on callers when overloaded, jumped to 8.8 million this year from 544,000 the year before.

Nina Olson, head of the national office designated to help taxpayers who face IRS problems, points to more than $1.2 billion in IRS budget cuts between federal fiscal years 2010 and 2015, according to USA Today.

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