Readers share their IRS horror stories

September 28, 1997


Staff Writer

A Keedysville man said he spent two years convincing the Internal Revenue Service that he didn't owe them any money.

Fifty years after the agency came after another Hagerstown woman for $29, she still gets angry.

Stories of IRS abuse and intimidation aren't limited to the Congressional hearings on Capitol Hill this past week.

Herald-Mail readers who shared their IRS horror stories are so frightened by the agency most don't want their names used for fear of retaliation.

"I think the IRS has a lot of power. Sometimes they wield it indiscriminately," said Hagerstown accountant Kenneth Graber.

Fortunately, most of the people who work at local IRS offices are competent and professional, Graber and other Tri-State area accountants said.


"Locally, it hasn't been a problem. This local office is not made up of a bunch of fanatics like some offices are," Graber said.

Most of the time, the problem is due to an IRS mistake, accountants said.

"Taxpayers get notices generated by computers. Many are incorrect," said Pete Alexander, an accountant with Albright, Crumbacker, Harrell & Moul in Hagerstown.

But the burden is still on the taxpayer to prove that they don't owe, they said.

Sometimes, an IRS agent latches onto a taxpayer's case and won't let go.

"It's the most overbearing bunch of people I've ever dealt with in my life. They harass people and they're wrong," said McConnellsburg, Pa., accountant Ron Richards.

Taxpayers in Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania have to go to Altoona to get problems solved, said Richards, who gets frustrated when he has to show agents basic math to convince them they are wrong.

If the problem persists, Richards sends the case to U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., who has an entire office set up to deal with tax problems, he said.

People who are less likely to fight the IRS are more vulnerable to intimidation. Mostly, that is poor people or those who are told they owe small amounts of money not worth arguing about, accountants said.

"That's easy pickin's," Graber said.

IRS intimidation apparently worked in the case of a Hagerstown woman who let the agency keep six years of her tax refunds.

She is reluctant to pursue the dispute even though she believes the refunds haven't been properly applied to her debt.

"I'm not a very big person here. I can't fight the government," said the 37-year-old woman, who didn't want to be identified.

A Keedysville man, 63, did fight the IRS.

But he said he had to give proof to 14 different IRS agents before the dispute, over just a few hundred dollars, was resolved.

"I was just frustrated and I didn't know what to do," he said. "What I went through for those two years was simply harassment."

The agency has made other mistakes with his account. Each time, it has been a hassle to correct, he said.

The agency has far-reaching powers.

Recently, the IRS took the last $62.89 out of Kim Haines' checking account without telling her, she said.

Because of it, Haines, 37, of Hagerstown, bounced two checks and racked up $200 in penalties.

IRS acting Commissioner Michael Dolan has acknowledged problems exist and has apologized to abused taxpayers.

He said the agency has embarked on a variety of reforms itself that have led to improved telephone tax service, expanded telephone tax filing and a sophisticated Internet Web page loaded with tax tips and forms.

`Respect' locally

The Hagerstown office has received little reaction to the hearings, said Manager David Ayersman.

"We have our guidelines and the integrity and the respect of taxpayers is very key in those guidelines," he said.

The Hagerstown woman who had a beef with the IRS in 1947 said she and her husband were treated like criminals by a local agent who is no longer there.

"That has stuck in my craw ever since," said the 73-year-old woman.

They paid the bill after going to Baltimore, where they saw a large room filled with volumes of papers - all uncollected taxes, she said.

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