When a thief gets hold of your credit card, either physically or by accessing your account online, and begins running up charges, the credit card company is supposed to let you know about it. Similarly, if someone tries to withdraw money out of your bank account, the bank is responsible for letting you know that as well. And if some identity thief got hold of your information and filed a bogus tax return on your behalf and collected a refund check, the IRS would have to tell you that too, right?

Shockingly, the answer is no. Or at least it was. (From the New Hampshire Union Leader)

[I]f identity thieves filed a fraudulent tax return in your name and got a refund, you would have no idea. The IRS has refused to inform the victims of fraudulent tax filings. That changed last week thanks to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

According to Sen. Ayotte’s office, this newspaper’s coverage of fraudulent tax filings prompted the senator to write the IRS to request a change in its policies. Last week Ayotte received a response from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

“As a result of your letter, we have decided to change our policy regarding disclosure of fraudulent identity theft returns to the victims whose names and SSN the fraudulent return was filed under,” he wrote.

Senator Ayotte and the journalist who dug this one up really stumbled onto something serious here. Apparently it not only wasn’t IRS policy to have to tell you about it, they wouldn’t even give you a copy of the fraudulent return so you could find out who was ripping you off. The reason given was that there “could be multiple social security numbers on the return” so somebody’s identify could be exposed. Whose identity? The thief’s?

Perhaps it’s past time for a full review of all of the customer service policies of the IRS, whether that takes place in some committee in Congress or through the work of a panel of journalists and bloggers. Whenever there is the slightest suspicion that you might owe the Internal Revenue Service a few dollars, their default response is pretty much along the lines of Paulie in Goodfellas. (“**** you. Pay me.”) But if you need anything from them – even a bit more time to pay an unexpectedly large bill – the hammer comes down and the fees begin piling up. And if what you need is information, no matter the subject, the example above shows that you may as well be trying to steal fire from the gods. And lets not forget the special customer service you can expect if you happen to be a conservative group seeking non-profit status.

Good work by Kelly Ayotte. After the bruising that the reputation of the IRS has taken under the leadership of Lois Lerner they may just be in the mood to be a bit more agreeable to some reform. This is probably the ideal time to strike while the iron is hot.