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Does the IRS Abuse the Treasury Offset Program?

irs logo treasuryHave you got a parking ticket and thought, “I’m not going to pay this. They’ll never catch me”? While there are urban legends of people owing thousands of dollars in overdue parking fines but never paying up or getting caught, the fact is, those individuals are few and far between, if they exist at all. Anyone who gets a parking ticket will almost surely pay up eventually. In fact, if you don’t pay up willingly, you could end up with a surprise come tax refund time. That’s because authorities, with the help of the IRS, can actually garnish your tax return, without you ever knowing it’s going to happen.

Too Much Power?

While that may seem perfectly fair, given that someone in this situation does actually owe money and should be paying off his or her fines, it does beg the question as to whether or not the IRS has too much authority to use this power, and does it in fact abuse it in certain situations? While in most cases, the IRS and other legal officials only use this power for legitimate cases of overdue legal fees and fines, there are instances where they get it wrong.

You Got the Wrong Man

Take for example, one man in California, who recently discovered that his state tax refund had been garnished to the tune of about 80 percent of his total refund. Apparently this man owed about $200 in overdue parking tickets to the city of Inglewood, California. It seems simple enough, right? The man owed money for parking tickets, so why shouldn’t he pay them off. There was one problem, however; the man in question doesn’t live in Inglewood, and in fact, he had never even been to the city. Likewise, the car in question was a Honda, but this man doesn’t own a Honda and he never has. So what happened?

No Notice of Offsets

Apparently someone messed up and this man was somehow incorrectly associated with these tickets. While the California Tax Board insists that these kinds of mistakes are rare, that’s not much consolation to the people who are mistakenly targeted for offsets. The money that is taken by state or federal authorities to satisfy debts is known as “offsets.” In California, at least, tax authorities are supposed to give notice when they are going to seize money from your tax refund, but in this man’s case he never received anything. Apparently it was sent to the wrong address.

Contact Authorities Right Away

The good news is that the man in question did get the problem resolved and the state tax board did refund him the money it had seized. However, one can’t help but wonder if state and local authorities have a little too much power when it comes to seizing taxpayers assets, especially when they have targeted the wrong person. Should there be other measures in place to prevent this kind of situation from happening? The answer is probably yes. However, in the meantime, if your tax refund should ever receive a garnishment for reasons unknown to you, then you should contact the responsible tax authorities as soon as possible.

kliving98@comcast.net'
Kent Livingston is an online freelance writer. His work experience covers several different industries and spans dozens of topics, including taxes, technology and many legal matters.