The IRS Thursday pledged to provide swifter help to hundreds of thousands of frustrated Americans victimized by tax fraud through identity theft.
"I want you to know that we understand your frustration, and we're working hard to get your cases resolved as quickly as we can," said acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller as he announced the federal tax agency's latest efforts to combat the fast-rising crime.
It likely won't be easy.
The IRS caseload — involving victims whose stolen Social Security numbers were used by thieves to collect unwarranted tax refunds — soared to 449,809 in 2012, up more than 80% from the previous year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson reported to Congress last month.
And victims routinely need to wait more than six months and speak to multiple IRS employees before their issues are resolved, reported Olson, who heads an independent office within the IRS.
The IRS resolved more than 500,000 identity-theft cases during the last calendar year, but still has just under 300,000 similar cases pending, said Miller.
"We still are challenged by our inventory, and folks are waiting longer than they should expect to," he said. "This is going to improve over the next year."
The IRS as of late 2012 had more than 3,000 employees working on identity-theft-related issues, more than double the 2011 count, said Miller. An additional 35,000 employees have been trained to aid victims and help taxpayers recognize identity-theft indicators, he said.
After absorbing federal budget cuts during the last two fiscal years, the IRS has reassigned workers from other jobs to help with identity-theft response. The shifts affect other work, said Miller, but were needed because "identity theft in its pernicious nature threatens the IRS as an enterprise" by undermining taxpayer confidence.
He issued the victim aid pledge at the start of the annual federal tax-filing season while updating IRS efforts to block fraudulent tax refunds related to identity theft and stop the thieves behind the crime wave.
The IRS blocked issuance of more than $20 billion in fraudulent refunds in fiscal year 2012, up from $14 billion the year before, the agency reported.
Working with federal, state and local authorities, the IRS in January took action against 389 suspects in identity-theft-related actions. The effort included 109 arrests and 189 indictments, said Miller. A similar effort in January 2012, the start of the continuing crackdown, resulted in action against 105 suspects.
The IRS hasn't controlled the crime wave yet, said Miller, but he added, "The more barriers we put up ... the more likely it is that criminals will turn elsewhere."