(Senate - January 28, 2019)

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[Pages S699-S701]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Ms. COLLINS (for herself and Mr. Jones):
  S. 240. A bill to require the Internal Revenue Service to establish, 
incrementally over five years, a nationwide program to provide personal 
identification numbers to taxpayers to help prevent tax-related 
identity theft; to the Committee on Finance.
  Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, this is the first day in which Americans 
across the country are eligible to file their 2018 tax returns. I rise 
today to introduce with my colleague from Alabama, Senator Jones, the 
Taxpayer Identity Protection Act. Our bill seeks to help prevent 
American taxpayers, including our seniors, from falling victim to 
identity theft and tax refund fraud.
  Last year, the IRS received nearly 142 million individual income tax 
returns. Nearly 75 percent of these returns were eligible for refunds. 
For the most part, these refunds are the return of dollars belonging to 
taxpayers that were overwithheld from their paychecks in the prior 
year. Millions of American families eagerly await these tax refunds--
money they may need to pay off debts, settle medical bills, or plug 
gaps in the family budget.
  Unfortunately for some Americans, these refunds never come or are 
long delayed due to identity theft. Criminals have figured out that, in 
many instances, it is cheaper and easier for

[[Page S700]]

them to steal taxpayers' identities and hijack their tax refunds than 
it is to traffic in drugs or rob banks.
  Identity theft-refund fraud occurs when a criminal files a false tax 
return using a stolen Social Security number and other sensitive 
personal information from sources such as hospitals, schools, or 
assisted living facilities, sometimes by recruiting employees to steal 
that personal information. The fraudster then uses the data to prepare 
fraudulent tax returns. The thieves make sure to file early--as soon as 
the tax season opens in January--to increase their odds that they can 
get a tax refund before the real taxpayer who is entitled to the refund 
files his or her return.
  The criminals are known to hold what they call make it rain parties, 
where they bring stolen laptops to a motel room with internet access 
and work together churning out scores of these fake tax returns. These 
criminals work under the premise of ``file early, file often.'' Once 
the thieves file the fraudulent tax return, the IRS processes it and 
issues the tax refund. With each refund worth on average $2,778, the 
money can add up pretty quickly for these criminals.
  This is by no means a victimless crime. In 2017, the Federal Trade 
Commission received more than 371,000 complaints of identity theft, 
including 82,000 complaints related to employment or tax refund fraud. 
Taxpayers who have their refunds hijacked by fraudsters often have to 
wait for years to get everything straightened out and to get the 
refunds to which they are legally entitled. Many, sadly, are 
revictimized year after year. A substantial number become victims of 
other forms of identity theft.
  Worst of all, victims are often the most vulnerable. The inspector 
general estimates that 76,000 very low income senior citizens were 
victims of tax fraud-identity theft in the year 2010 alone.
  In 2016, the Lewiston, ME, Sun Journal published a story about Rick 
Zaccaro and Bonnie Washuk, a married couple who were the victims of tax 
fraud. They had filed their taxes in late January of 2015, and Rick, a 
retired financial analyst for the Postal Service, was checking the 
status of their return online in early February. That is when he 
learned they were the victims of identity theft. Someone had filed a 
tax return and claimed a tax refund using their names, dates of birth, 
and Social Security numbers. That fraudulent claim was paid by the IRS 
while their legitimate tax filing, with their appropriate W-2s, was 
stuck in limbo.
  It took months of worrying, frozen bank accounts, and many calls to 
multiple government offices for this couple to straighten things out. 
When they finally received their overdue tax refund, they also received 
something called an identity protection personal identification number, 
better known as an IP PIN.
  To provide relief to some victims of identity theft, the IRS began 
issuing IP PINs to eligible taxpayers in fiscal year 2011. An IP PIN is 
a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that allows tax 
returns and refunds to be processed without delay and helps prevent the 
misuse of an individual's Social Security number on fraudulent income 
tax returns.
  Here is how it works. If a return is filed electronically with an 
individual's Social Security number and an incorrect or missing IP PIN, 
the IRS's system automatically rejects that tax return until it is 
submitted with the correct IP PIN or it is filed on paper. If the same 
conditions occur on a paper-filed return, the IRS will delay its 
processing and any refund that may be due while the Agency determines 
if the return actually belongs to the taxpayer.
  In 2013, the IRS began a pilot program in which it offered IP PINs to 
all taxpayers--not just those who were victims of identity theft--who 
filed their Federal tax returns as residents of Florida, Georgia, or 
the District of Columbia. According to the IRS, these three locations 
were chosen because they have the highest per capita percentage of tax-
related identity theft in the country. Taxpayers in these three 
jurisdictions may opt in to the IP PIN program if they want that extra 
layer of identity protection, even if they have not been victims of 
identity theft.
  In preparation for last year's filing season, the IRS issued nearly 
3.5 million IP PINs to taxpayers. That is a substantial increase from 
the 770,000 in 2013. According to the IRS, within just a month, it had 
rejected nearly 7,400 fraudulent tax returns that had been filed 
electronically. As of March 15, 2018, it had stopped nearly 1,500 
paper-filed tax returns. This shows that this system works.
  If a taxpayer has a special PIN number that has to appear on his or 
her or their tax return before the IRS will process the form 
electronically and issue the refund, it will stop a criminal, who would 
not have access to that special, individualized PIN number, from 
receiving someone else's tax refund.
  The bipartisan Taxpayer Identity Protection Act of 2019 that the 
Senator from Alabama and I are introducing today would expand and make 
permanent the IRS's IP PIN pilot program to help combat identity theft-
refund fraud across the Nation. Specifically, our bill would authorize 
the IRS to expand its pilot program nationally in phases over a 5-year 
period. Expanding the program would give all taxpayers, ultimately, the 
opportunity to further protect themselves from falling victim to tax 
refund fraud and identity theft while also saving taxpayers billions of 
dollars every year in tax refunds that are paid not to the taxpayers 
who deserve them but, rather, to criminals who are impersonating the 
taxpayers who deserve the refund.
  Having an IP PIN has proven to protect against identity theft. I am 
pleased to report that the IRS supports expansion of this vital program 
over the next 5 years.
  I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the 
adoption of the Taxpayer Identity Protection Act of 2019. This is a 
concrete action we can take to help protect taxpayers and to ensure 
that tax refunds go to the taxpayers who deserve these refunds, who are 
entitled to these refunds, and that they don't get misdirected to a 
criminal who is seeking to rip off a taxpayer.
      By Mr. KAINE (for himself and Mr. Warner):
  S. 247. A bill to designate additions to the Rough Mountain 
Wilderness and the Rich Hole Wilderness of the George Washington 
National Forest, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Energy and 
Natural Resources.
  Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, this bill authorizes additions to two 
existing wilderness areas within the George Washington National Forest 
in Bath County, Virginia. This text represents years of negotiation and 
compromise among Virginia stakeholders who rely in different ways on 
the GW Forest.
  In many parts of America, Federal land management is controversial. 
Some may view these lands as repositories for timber, energy, or 
minerals. Others may enjoy using recreational trails through them. 
Others may believe that they should be left to nature and not 
disturbed. The truth, of course, is that all of these uses are 
important; the conflict lies in agreeing on which lands are best suited 
to which purposes.
  In the lead-up to the latest multi-year GW Forest Management Plan, 
various forest users came together to see if they could find reasonable 
compromises that would avoid years of unproductive disagreement and 
litigation. This group, known as the George Washington National Forest 
Stakeholder Collaborative, succeeded. Through hard work and consensus, 
the Collaborative made joint recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service 
for forest management and protection. Preservation advocates consented 
to timber harvest and other active forest restoration and management in 
certain areas, while forest products interests consented to wilderness 
and light management in other areas. Following this fruitful 
collaboration, the Forest Service convened the Lower Cowpasture 
Restoration and Management Project, bringing together the Collaborative 
and other stakeholders to help develop management activities on this 
particular part of the Forest in Bath County. Again, this collaborative 
succeeded, with everyone getting some of what they want and giving some 
  The Collaborative has now come together to support the wilderness 
additions in this bill, which designates 4,500

[[Page S701]]

acres to be added to the Rich Hole Wilderness Area and 1,000 acres to 
be added to the Rough Mountain Wilderness Area. I am proud to partner 
on this with my colleague Senator Mark Warner, and we are following in 
the path blazed by Senator John Warner and Representative Rick Boucher, 
who led the original Virginia Wilderness Act in 1984.
  Taking care of our Nation's public lands is good for the economy and 
good for the environment. Land disputes may often be contentious, but 
this example proves they don't have to be. When everyone comes to the 
table and invests the necessary time, we can find common ground. I hope 
this will be a lesson for us in other tough policy challenges, and I 
encourage the Senate to support this bill.