New Treasury task force to go after tax refund cheats

April 21, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Embarrassed by disclosures of widespread losses from tax refund fraud, the Clinton administration announced yesterday the creation of a special Treasury task force to detect and punish tax cheats.

Estimates this week by Rep. Bill Archer, D-Texas, put the losses to the federal Treasury from tax refund fraud at $9 billion. Mr. Archer, ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has joined other congressional leaders in chastising the Internal Revenue Service for its failure to address the problem and in demanding action.

Bowing to congressional pressure, Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen said at a Senate hearing yesterday that a special inter-agency effort -- involving the Treasury and Justice departments and the Office of Management and Budget -- will study the tax fraud problem and recommend ways to correct it.

The task force will be particularly interested in recommendations from outside consultants on ways to detect fraud among the estimated 14 million returns filed by computer.

The problem of tax fraud -- particularly stemming from the abuse of the earned-income tax credit -- has been exacerbated by the ease and speed of electronic filing. While the IRS needs six or seven weeks to process refunds from paper returns, it only requires two or three weeks to send refunds based on electronic returns.

About 55,000 companies or individuals across the country are authorized to transmit tax information to the IRS by computer.

The agency says the speed of the technology gives it less time to verify taxpayer information and determine whether claims for refunds are correct.

Mr. Bentsen told the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for Treasury funding that the department wants $72 million "specially earmarked to go after tax fraud schemes, including electronic refund fraud."

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