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Curiosity killed the cat

Nearly half a dozen IRS workers at the agency’s Fresno, California facility were charged with computer fraud and unauthorized access to tax return information last Monday: prosecutors accused Corina Yepez, Melissa Moisa, Brenda Jurado, Irene Fierro and David Baker of snooping around taxpayers’ private tax information for personal purposes.

The five may have been caught by new algorithms deployed by the IRS to root out curious tax workers, which can be applied retroactively to access records stretching back for years.

According to the IRS, the five workers accused accessed between one and four records per person, sometime in 2005. The total number of compromised tax returns stands at 13.

“The IRS has a method for looking for unauthorized access, and it keeps audit trails, and occasionally it will pump out information about who's done what,” said prosecutor Mark McKoen, who will be leading the federal case against the Fresno five. “In general terms, IRS employees are only authorized to access the accounts of taxpayers who write in. They're not allowed to access friends, relatives, neighbors, [or] celebrities.”

Apparently, curious employees are a recurring problem for IRS investigators: with 430 known cases of improper access in 1998, and 521 in 2007. Problems occur frequently enough that nosy employees caught browsing are guilty of what the agency calls “UNAX,” or “unauthorized access”: Employees found in UNAX are typically disciplined internally, and a handful are slapped with misdemeanor charges of violating the Taxpayer Browsing Protection and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts.

“Whether the intent is fraud or simply curiosity, the potential exists for unauthorized accesses to tax information of high-profile individuals and other taxpayers,” said Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George. “The competing goals of protecting this information and achieving workplace efficiencies become even more difficult as technology becomes faster and more complex.”

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RE: Here is an idea...
By LyCannon on 5/14/2008 11:24:38 AM , Rating: 2
Why don't we just get rid of the IRS altogether and then we won't have this problem?

Sure, why do we need things like roads, police, firemen, the military...surely all those things are luxuries.

RE: Here is an idea...
By MrBlastman on 5/14/2008 11:28:17 AM , Rating: 2
You can get rid of the IRS and not get rid of taxes ;)

RE: Here is an idea...
By callmeroy on 5/14/2008 11:35:17 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly....the IRS is not needed to collect taxes and certainly not needed to SPEND tax money (the one thing we can likely all agree on is politicians are EXPERTS at spending).

Its been discussed in economics classes (namely mine about 10 years back when I was still a student) and I've read past articles on it as well -- more than one economist or professor believes it is quite doable to be gone with the IRS.

And btw I do think a flat tax is the best compromise...of course you can NEVER please everyone, but a flat rate is about as close to fair across the board as you can get.

It would suck not getting a refund ever again, but it would balance out because you'd keep more money each paycheck anyway.

RE: Here is an idea...
By Polynikes on 5/14/2008 11:40:22 AM , Rating: 2
Who's gonna collect 'em?

RE: Here is an idea...
By MrBlastman on 5/14/2008 11:44:18 AM , Rating: 3
I will. Please make checks payable to me and I'll be sure to allocate them within the government. ;)

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