This story clearly falls into the category: “you just can’t make this stuff up.” First, who knew that illegal immigrants in America could even file a tax return, but they can and do. Even though they don’t have a Social Security number, they can get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The ITIN was created because everyone in the U.S., legal or not, is required to pay federal income taxes.
Of course, the whole idea that an illegal immigrant would go through the trouble of obtaining an ITIN just to pay Uncle Sam is ludicrous–and only exists in a bureaucrat’s dream. However, they would go through the trouble if they discovered that they could get Uncle Sam to pay them. And that’s exactly what has happened.
Some enterprising tax accountant, perhaps illegal, discovered that the “Additional Child Tax Credit” (ACTC) could be paid through an ITIN. The ACTC is the refundable portion of the child tax credit which is currently worth $1,000 per child. So, let’s say a taxpayer has a tax liability of $2,000, but has three children yielding a child tax credit worth $3,000 . . . that taxpayer would receive a refund of $1,000 since the child tax credit exceeds their tax liability by $1,000 ($3,000 minus $2,000).
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration recently looked into this problem in a report titled “Individuals Who Are Not Authorized to Work in the United States Were Paid $4.2 Billion in Refundable Credits” (pdf) As you can see in the chart above, this ACTC fraud has been exploding. In 2010, over 3 million ITINs claimed $4.2 billion in ACTC payments.
But wait, there’s more . . . according to the report:
The payment of Federal funds through this tax benefit appears to provide an additional incentive for aliens to enter, reside, and work in the United States without authorization, which contradicts Federal law and policy to remove such incentives.
HHHmmm, so Uncle Sam’s left hand doesn’t know what his right hand is doing.
OK, let’s put this $4.2 billion into perspective. According to state data published by the IRS, in 2009, New Hampshire paid $4.5 billion in income taxes to Uncle Sam. Now imagine if a foreign power sailed to our shores and stole New Hampshire’s entire booty meant for Uncle Sam. In such a case, Uncle Sam would have declared war on that foreign power. Yet, such thievery is happening everyday via illegal immigrants and Uncle Sam does nothing.
Of course, I could have inserted a great many other states, even multiple states, other than New Hampshire such as: Alaska ($2.7 billion), Delaware ($2.7 billion), Washington, D.C. ($3.6 billion), Hawaii ($3.7 billion), Idaho ($2.9 billion), Maine ($3.1 billion), Montana ($2.3 billion), North Dakota ($2 billion), Rhode Island ($3.2 billion), South Dakota ($2.3 billion), Vermont ($1.7 billion), West Virginia ($3.7 billion), and Wyoming ($2.1 billion).
Additionally, in FY 2010, the ACTC cost $22.7 billion so $4.2 billion in fraud represents 19 percent of all ACTC payments . . . how many private businesses would still be in business if 19 percent of vendor payments were fraudulent?!
Also, being an economist, I found this passage particularly funny:
Another reason for the increase is that a significant number of individuals are filing multiple claims to obtain the ACTC for prior year tax returns (e.g., filing Tax Years 2007, 2008, and 2009 returns at the same time). In Processing Year 2010, approximately 238,000 ITIN filers submitted more than 608,000 tax returns for multiple years at the same time and claimed just more than a billion dollars in ACTCs on those returns. The ACTC claims for these individuals for the combined tax periods can be substantial . . . Moreover, in our analysis of returns filed in Processing Year 2010, some individuals had submitted duplicate tax returns for multiple years to multiple IRS processing centers and received ACTC refunds.
I guess incentives really do matter 🙂
Finally, I couldn’t get this video to embed, but if you have 6 minutes or so the video shows an investigative report titled “IRS Tax Loophole” that tells the story of a tax accountant who is blowing the whistle on this fraud.