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Taxpayers are turning to social media for information from the IRS, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), reported in its April 16 report, Interim Results of the 2012 Filing Season.

As IRS Social Media Grows, Customer Service Lags

  • 4/25/2012

As IRS Social Media Grows, Customer Service Lags

Taxpayers are turning to social media for information from the IRS, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), reported in its April 16 report, Interim Results of the 2012 Filing Season. However, longer wait times to talk with an IRS customer service representative may be what is fueling the movement. TIGTA also touted electronic filing, the successful migration of individual returns to the Modernized eFile (MeF) system, and anti-fraud activities during a news conference on the report.

Social media

The IRS uses different types of social media to connect with taxpayers, TIGTA reported. IRS2Go is a smartphone app, which has expanded to six tools. Taxpayers can check the status of their refunds, get tax updates, follow the IRS’s news feed, and watch videos. The IRS is also communicating with taxpayers through video-sharing sites and podcasts.

Customer service

The IRS defines "level of service" as the success rate of taxpayers who call for live assistance on the service’s toll-free phone lines. "Our report confirms that taxpayers experienced increased wait times," Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George, told reporters.

The IRS achieved a 66 percent level of service as of March 3, 2012, TIGTA reported. Wait times for telephone assistance averaged 16 minutes. According to TIGTA, the IRS anticipated a lower level of service for 2012. TIGTA attributed the decline to a reduction in funding for toll-free phone assistance.

Electronic filing

Electronic filing volumes are 6 percent higher this year compared to 2011, George said. Increased use of home computers has contributed to the growth in electronic filing, according to George.

The IRS has continued to migrate e-filing of individual returns to the MeF system, which provides real-time processing of returns. As of March 7, 2012, the IRS had received more than 52 million individual returns through the MeF system. This represented a 499 percent increase over 2011, TIGTA reported.

Early in the 2012 filing season, the IRS experienced some MeF programming problems that delayed the processing of approximately 7.8 million returns, TIGTA found. All of the delayed returns were moved to processing by February 18, 2012. During that time, the IRS encouraged return transmitters to use its legacy e-file system. TIGTA noted that the IRS will not have the legacy system as a backup if plans to retire the system at the end of 2012 continue.

Detecting fraud

"The IRS is doing a better job detecting tax fraud," George said. The number of fraudulent returns identified by the IRS jumped from roughly 457,000 in 2009 to more than 2.1 million in 2011. As of March 3, 2012, the IRS had identified returns with $2.7 billion claimed in fraudulent refunds. The IRS prevented the issuance of 97 percent of the fraudulent refunds, TIGTA found.

Homebuyer credit

Individuals who purchased a home between April 9, 2008, and December 31, 2008, and claimed the first-time homebuyer tax credit, generally must repay the credit, George explained. Repayment began with the 2010 tax year. TIGTA found that more than 535,000 taxpayers reported homebuyer credit repayments totaling more than $175 million, as of March 7, 2012.

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