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Entangled in a Banyan Tree

Last week we got a letter from the IRS. We were super excited. Yes, really! You see, we are one of 29M filers whose 2019 refund is unaccounted for. Let me say that again - one year after filing we still have not received our refund.

I'd rather have a root canal than call the IRS, so getting a letter was an absolute blessing. We thought they are going to update us on the refund. Instead, it said - in very stern language - you are delinquent for not filing our 2019 return.

Uh, what?!

We did what people do when they receive a letter from the IRS. We curled into a ball.

We spent the weekend gathering information, preparing to respond. I planned to call our Congressional representative and seek her office's help in reaching the IRS. In the midst of the frenetic activities, our accountant asked, "Are you sure this letter is not a scam?" That made us squint our eyes to re-examine the letter.

In the perfectly crafted letter, we saw the DNA of a scam.

First, it was addressed to me even though Tarun is the primary filer in our family. At a minimum, the letter should have his name or more accurately his first, mine second. Second, it said we haven't filed, yet the IRS status site says our return is "in process". Third, my social was in the bottom of the letter - visible, clear as day, fully exposed.

I consider Tarun and myself to be tech savvy and I give us credit for being able to smell a scam from miles away. Yet this time, were we at the receiving end of a scam?!

It was time to call the IRS.

Their automated message system is like this ancient banyan tree with branches that go into the ground to become roots. I was quickly entangled in the numerous options on the support line.

The IRS answers 1 in 50 calls. I figured I should try a new path on each try.

The first few options kicked me out after promising to get me to a human with a "sorry, try later" message. By now I was in warrior mode and was not going to give up. On the 8th try I got into a queue to talk to an agent and didn't get ejected.

Hallelujah, I beat the 1:50 odd!

Agent ID 123687365DN told us that our account shows a letter was sent but she couldn't confirm the content of the letter - go figure! Bottom line is that the "scammy" letter was probably real. They sent it because one side of the agency doesn't know what the other side knows. The agent didn't say this but we could hear it in her voice. The letter was addressed to me for reasons unknown and - YES! - the IRS can disclose SSNs although the agent mumbled they should have done so in certified mail.

No wonder the scammers have such a field day - the agency makes it easy to steal our data. Is it a surprise then that the statistics on scam continues to get worse? In a rolling 3-year period the number has gone up by 11%. I bet the next cycle will show a worse trend because we are doing so much more online in the pandemic.

If you have received your 2019 refund, congratulations, we will toast to your success! We, on the other hand, will begin another cycle of waiting after responding to the letter, praying that scammers don't get a hold of these snail mail letters.


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