It’s mid-April, which means it’s the time of year when I ask my friendly Brookline CPA all sorts of questions about deductions and he tells me that I can’t have any of them. I’ll be like, “Can I do that inversion thing where you technically become Irish but don’t have to live there or wear cable-knit sweaters?” And he says no. And I say, “Well, what about offshoring? I have a boat. If I write my column out in the ocean, does that give me diplomatic immunity?” And he says no. Then I tell him about how I set up an account just to buy shrubberies so now, technically, I’m a hedge fund.
And so it goes, with me dropping jargon like “carried interest” and “like-kind exchange” and him patiently explaining why I can’t deduct my gold-plated fireplace tongs even though I just mentioned them right here, thus making them work-related. Thanks to these overly strict rules, I never ever get a tax refund. Which is why the joke’s on you, identity thief!
Yes, last spring someone attempted to file a tax return in my name—early in the season and with a refund. The IRS, which knows me well enough to know that I never do any such thing, flagged the return and sent it to tax limbo, where it remains. I recently spent about an hour and a half on the phone with the IRS verifying my identity, a process that involved a lengthy list of multiple-choice questions and several occasions where my playful plea for a hint was met with stony silence from the other end of the line. “Someone has your social security number and tried to file a tax return in your name,” the IRS woman said. “This is a very serious problem.”
I know it is. But you’ve got to appreciate the absurdity of trying to convince a stranger that you are you. I mean, I could’ve told her the perfect questions to ask, because I know me just about better than anyone. Maybe in the future, your taxes should include an identity confirmation page where you create your own verification questions with information that goes a bit deeper than prior street addresses. Like “Which cardboard-cutout sitcom character did you steal from a KFC in-store promotional display and then place on the roof of your high school?” This figure, name redacted, was opening his jacket to reveal a selection of commemorative plastic cups, but we replaced the cups with empty cans of Bud Light, like total badasses. We imagined the principal arriving at school in the morning, shaking his fist at the sky and saying, “I’ll catch you pranksters if it’s the last thing I ever do!” Really, he probably just sighed and walked inside and reminded himself that he only had seven years and eight months until his pension would be fully funded.
It’s not just the IRS that’s having fraud problems, either. The other morning I awoke to find a text message from my credit card company asking me to verify an attempted charge. I called them and explained that, no, I did not sign up for Russian IT support at one in the morning. “Your card’s been compromised,” the customer service rep said. “Destroy it, and we’ll issue a new one.”
I liked her terminology: “compromised” and “destroy.” I felt like a spy. Roger that, the compromised card will be destroyed—if I can find it before it falls into the hands of the shadowy Khan syndicate. According to my source at Michaels crafts store, which issued the card (great rewards program, if you’re into yarn), it’s aboard a submarine under the Arctic Circle. We’ll need a dogsled filled with explosives. And yarn. You’ll find out why soon enough.
Thanks to the prevalence of ID theft, I feel like my every financial move is being scrutinized. For instance, last fall I was at a gas station in the Everglades when I decided to buy a hand-painted ceramic tile framed by pieces of old lobster trap. A moment after I handed over my card, I got a text message from the credit card company saying, “Hey, are you really buying art? At a gas station? In the swamp?” I guess that’s not within the usual boundaries of my spending habits. My only other fraud check happened when I was buying a suit, so clearly Citibank views upscale apparel and swamp art as equally implausible purchases. Somewhere in the fraud prosecution division, an overworked detective jabbed at a computer screen and said, “OK, we can see him deciding to get the lobster trap souvenir instead of the enameled alligator head. He also bought a Jolt Cola. It fits. But a suit? I don’t think so. This is a sweatpants guy all the way. Shut it down!”
I’m still waiting for my 2014 taxes to go through. In the meantime, some helpful citizen already tried to file my 2015 taxes. Since you can’t change your social security number, it appears that this will be a recurring problem. But I’ve got a solution, if anyone will listen. Code word: Kramer.