The updated law, which has no exceptions, is designed to give the IRS more time to help detect and prevent fraud. Tax identity fraud is one of the fastest-growing types of fraud—it accounted for almost half of the 491,000 ID theft complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission last year. NCL is making this toolkit available for free to the more than 12,000 VITA programs operating nationwide to help them protect consumers from identity theft and other tax-related frauds by using free tax preparation services.
The IRS relies on local VITA programs, along with the brand-name online tax preparation software offered through its Free File program, to help qualifying individuals file their federal taxes each year, free of charge. NCL’s IRS Refund Delay Toolkit will provide VITAs with strategies, practical tips, tools, and educational messages that they can use to encourage consumers to rely on these options, thus helping them to avoid schemes which claim to offer quicker refunds, but actually result in high-interest payday loans or costly short-term refund advances, both of which are detrimental to consumers in the long run.
“It has never been more important for consumers to prepare accurate income tax returns,” said John Breyault, NCL’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Our goal is to help consumers reduce their risk of falling victim to tax identity fraud, connect with services that will help them navigate this year’s delay and keep 100 percent of their federal refunds without worrying about hidden fees or unexpected charges.”
The effort is intended to build on the IRS' success in reducing tax identity fraud rates, which decreased by nearly 50 percent in last year’s filing season. In 2015, 1.2 million confirmed identity theft returns were filed and stopped, totaling $7.2 billion in potential losses to taxpayers. In that same period in 2016, only 787,000 confirmed identity theft returns, totaling $4 billion in fraudulent refunds, made it into the IRS’ system: a decrease of almost 500,000 fraudulent returns stopped before processing. By guiding consumers to free IRS tax preparation services, NCL believes that the numbers of confirmed tax identity fraud cases in 2017 can continue to decline.
With the support of an unrestricted educational grant from the Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation, NCL has partnered with the CFED Taxpayer Opportunity Network to help distribute the toolkit to its network of VITA programs and volunteer tax preparers. “Helping VITA programs prepare for the potential impact the refund delay may have on EITC filers and VITA volunteers is critical,” said Rebecca Thompson, CFED’s Project Director of the Taxpayer Opportunity Network. “We are excited to work with NCL on a toolkit that helps VITAs communicate with taxpayers, volunteers and community partners about the refund delay.”
Learn more about free tax preparation services like VITAs or Free File and access the toolkit by visiting vitatoolkit.org.