November 29th, 2016

Abusive IRS “service representative,” anyone?

Recently I got a cryptic bill from the IRS for a small amount of money. The reason for the charges was ostensibly explained on the bill, but in a way that only dogs can hear and IRS agents or tax attorneys can understand. It wasn’t a big deal—I could have just paid it—but I thought I’d call to ask for some clarification because the bill seemed to be referring to something I already had paid.

I knew there would be a phone wait of at least an hour to talk to a human being. But that was okay with me because I could just put my phone on speaker or put my bluetooth in my ear while I worked at my computer and waited. The music was annoying, of course, but not as annoying as some while you’re on hold. It’s frustrating not to know whether it will be a half-hour wait or an hour wait or a five-hour wait or whether the line will disconnect. But after about an hour a person suddenly answered, and asked me why I was calling.

Actually, he asked me what I was calling to dispute. I started by saying that well, I wasn’t sure I was disputing anything, but I had gotten a bill about which I had a question…

And then it began. The “service representative” said—in a voice so nasty and dripping with sarcastic contempt that initially I could not believe my ears—“Excuse me; excuse me, I see you’re determined to interrupt me! Now, this time, how about listening to me? I asked you, what are you calling to dispute?”

I could have hung up right than and there, but I didn’t. More’s the pity, because that was the courteous highlight of what turned out to be about a twenty-five minute conversation that degenerated further and further on his part, although I remained scrupulously polite.

There were a number of reasons why I remained on the line and remained civil. The first was that one-hour wait. I didn’t want to repeat it, and I realized there was no guarantee the next agent would be any better. Perhaps this is the new norm at the IRS—abuse the caller and maybe he/she will never call again (by the way, I’ve spoken to the IRS about twice before to ask questions, both times over ten years ago, and the people who answered had been helpful and pleasant).

In addition, I couldn’t believe I was actually hearing what I was hearing. This person was so egregiously rude—so much like a teasing bully on the schoolyard—that it was both shocking and fascinating. How low would he go and how rude would he get? Throughout the entire conversation, I was cut off almost any time I wanted to explain anything or say anything other than what he wanted me to say (and I couldn’t glean what that might be), and then I was accused of interrupting him, or being unresponsive, or worse.

The man’s statements of supposed “explanation” were as hard to understand as the bill itself had been. It was as though his goal was not only to insult me but to keep information from me rather than reveal it, even simple information that he possessed and that could have shed light on the subject. So another reason I stayed on the line was out of sheer curiosity, to study what he was doing and see if any response of mine would change it, and also to see if I’d ever get the answers.

I could go on and try to describe the rest of the exchange, but only a recording would convey what it was like and alas, I don’t have one. I did get my answers in the end, but only because I persevered. I doubt most people would have. It was an “interesting” experience, to say the least, and one I’m not eager to repeat—which may have been part of the reason it was done that way.

It also was a demonstration of the corruption that goes with power. Power—and the IRS certainly has power—gives IRS employees the ability to vent their inner sadists because they know the people they’re dealing with are, for the most part, afraid of them. Each person one speaks to at the IRS is possessed of information that fully identifies you and makes you vulnerable, and if that person wanted to do much worse to you than merely treat you rudely, he or she probably can. It also became clear to me that the IRS either encourages this behavior on the agent’s part or at the very least could not care less about it; afterwards I looked at a bunch of discussion boards where people who’d been treated similarly had tried to complain and gotten absolutely nowhere.

The IRS is an unchecked behemoth. We already know—from its treatment of the right under Lois Lerner prior to the 2012 election, and from her subsequent behavior and that of others in the agency—what the IRS is capable of when political suppression is the goal. But now it may have come down to routine mistreatment of callers, just because they can do it. After all, who will check them and who will stop them? Nobody.

I had forgotten that when the IRS scandal first broke, even the left was upset by it. That ended after a short while, but here are some examples of the initial reaction that shows the universality of the anxiety:

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said: “There is a reasonable fear by all of us, by any of us, that the kind of power the IRS has could be misused,” she further said that this scrutiny of Tea Party groups was “not fair.”

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart stated that the scandal had taken “the last arrow in your pro-governance quiver,” he further said that this threw doubt on President Obama’s “managerial competence” and had proven correct “conspiracy theorists,” moving the burden of proof onto federal authorities.

ABC News’ Terry Moran wrote that this was: “A truly Nixonian abuse of power by the Obama administration.”

Even though that sort of bipartisan outrage didn’t endure, it reflected the very real fear of the IRS that even Rachel Maddow was able to acknowledge and articulate. That’s a good reason—one of many, actually—to support the scrapping of the IRS (one of Ted Cruz’s campaign proposals, by the way) and the imposition of some completely different system that doesn’t require so much centralization of power and so much intrusiveness.

47 Responses to “Abusive IRS “service representative,” anyone?”

  1. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    You said the IRS is possessed of information that fully identifies you. Perhaps they have you listed as the author of a blog that is read by conservatives?

  2. Nick Says:

    I just have to make sure – this was a bill you received in the mail, on an IRS or Department of Treasury letterhead, right? And you didn’t give the operator any information about your account that he didn’t already have?

  3. mizpants Says:

    This is a chilling, important post that I predict will be all over the net within the next 24 hours.
    Wow. Just Wow.

  4. carl in atlanta Says:

    I, for one, have always found their customer service representatives to be courteous and professional.

  5. Cornhead Says:

    The tip of the iceberg as to why we should have the three page tax code Carley pushed. Her dad was a tax law professor before he was a federal judge. He told here that the tax code was how the politicians exercised power. And raised money.

    I suspect that the GDP would jump 2% if the tax code was really reformed. Just think about the market cap of H&R Block.

  6. Cornhead Says:

    I think Russia has a flat tax.

    If Trump could deliver on this, he would be a great president. He knows how much he has personally benefited from the 900 page tax code.

  7. neo-neocon Says:


    Yes, it was undoubtedly an IRS official notice, with all the bells and whistles and references to correct figures amidst the one or two things that were unclear. Plus, I was calling him at the official IRS service number.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    carl in atlanta:

    Yes, the 2 people I talked to in the past were perfectly fine. I don’t know whether this guy was one of the rogue ones (of which there are quite a few, considering internet discussion about similar treatment) or whether this is a newish phenomenon and a new policy.

    I think it is half and half. I think there is some new training, due to fewer and fewer people to man the phones and longer wait times, to make calls short and to discourage questions. And then some angry, power-mad people take it and run with it, becoming even nastier than the training suggests. In addition, I think that there really is no quality control to monitor them at this point.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Cap’n Rusty:

    It fully identifies me as to name and address. But there’s nothing whatsoever there that mentions or identifies the blog, although I certainly declare whatever money I earn from it as income from my business.

  10. blert Says:

    All of them are Civil Service Democrats.

    They are above discipline.

    Hence, your tale is typical.

    Further, MANY IRS troopers actually hate their jobs.

    They’re just paid so well — and are so unhireable* — that they are stuck.

    * Worse than being a felon.

  11. I'm with Decius Says:

    My one personal contact with an actual IRS person (in her office) didn’t go very well. The IRS said my tax return didn’t jibe with my Form XYZ (can’t remember the actual number). I searched the tax instructions for several different schedules, the website, etc. I could find no reference to a Form XYZ. Turns out it’s an internal IRS form! When I intimated that I couldn’t reconcile my tax return with Form XYZ if I didn’t know what Form XYZ was, the IRS rep got all indignant and pretty much lectured me on not questioning the integrity, accuracy, and stalwart common sense of the Internal Revenue Service. And her personally.

    The funny thing was, the whole interview was being recorded “for training purposes.” Hah! They probably listened to it for laughs.

  12. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Abolish the IRS. Nothing less will do.

    A simple flat tax is the most effective way to prevent abuse.

    Drain the Swamp.

  13. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Uudoubtedly some will say that abolishing the IRS is short sighted and that it’s far too complicated economically to predict the economic consequences of eliminating the IRS.

    Alexander the Great demonstrated how to deal with “it’s complicated” situations. You cut through the “Gordian Knot” and “let the chips fall where they may”. “Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!” needs to be Trump’s mantra, if… he’s sincere about draining the swamp.

  14. parker Says:

    Mrs parker was an IRS auditor 1977 to 1983. She audited returns from agriculture related corporations. She was outraged over the Lerner investigation. She will be even more upset to learn of your experience neo.

    Obama has weaponized the IRS, EPA, DOD, and most of the rest of the alphabet soup. Cruz is right about abolishing the IRS. Of course many of those who make campaign contributions love a complex tax code, so it will not happen any time soon.

  15. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    Neo: In your response, you said that there was nothing in the letter that identified you other than your name and address.

    But in your article, you said “Each person one speaks to at the IRS is possessed of information that fully identifies you and makes you vulnerable . . .” I’m pretty sure that when the IRS person finally answered, he or she pulled up a computer screen full of information about you. You don’t know what all the information was on that screen.

    Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t after me.

  16. AMartel Says:

    I once called the IRS to ask the whereabouts of my refund. The guy was SO OBNOXIOUSLY RUDE. At first he pretended not to understand my question. Then he would not acknowledge the question until I spoke the words in IRS-ese which involved him explaining terminology (“Are you inquiring about a _______?” which was kind of but not exactly what I was inquiring about but I had to go along with it anyway) and then making me repeat it. The refund was months late; the IRS obviously screwed up somehow but this broken cog was never going to acknowledge that. He implied I had received it and was just trying to claim it again or something. Said he could search my bank account. I’d already been through my bank records to make sure I hadn’t already gotten it or had it deposited electronically and forgotten it, so while I was confident I was in the right it was unnerving how easy this guy was with assuming the worst about me and making threats to rifle through my private affairs to prove his theory. I really could not believe the attitude on this public servant but stayed with it. I wanted my refund! I never got any acknowledgment or apology but the refund did finally show up a few weeks later. IRS should be burned to the ground and all its employees set loose to inevitably fail in the real world.

  17. neo-neocon Says:


    It sounds like the same guy, or a guy with the same training and attitude (which is even scarier). It was like a guessing game for me, and I had to guess at exactly the right language or he’d mock me and refuse to answer, and would just repeat himself. And if I said I was confused by something, he’s say “That’s certainly obvious” or something very snarky like that.

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    Cap’n Rusty:

    I didn’t say the letter only had my name and address on it. It fully identified me with name and address and also a great deal more, including my social security number.

    But there is nothing either in the letter or in my tax returns that identifies me as having a blog, just as a writer.

  19. Michael Adams Says:

    I don’t know whether this will be a comfort or just a further aggravation, but, my wife has been a ‘seasonal’ IRS employee for twenty of the past twenty nine years. They have a deal, that seasonals keep their health insurance when they are furloughed, but have to pay the government back when they go back to work. OK, that’s more than fair. But and however, a few weeks into the last couple of furloughs, we get a letter telling us that we have defaulted on our payment plan. (We never had one.) Then we get further demand letters, telling us to pay up, yesterday, and that they are going to take payments out of her paychecks, which they have always done, according the standing arrangement. It’s no surprise that she has to wait a very long time on hold, on a pay-by-the-minute cell ‘phone at work, because her division does not require her to talk to people, so she has no ‘phone on the desk. Happily, the work is slack, just now, so, apart from paying for the minutes, on hold is no pain. Nevertheless, getting straight answers, or the same answer from different people, is the goal, not always attained.

    Now, the stuff about rogue agents.,etc, was risible, even to the Demoncrats in the office.(Who are less numerous than one might think.) It’s quite like the old days at the ‘phone company, with potty policy, quotas, etc. We call it the tax factory, as a very unfunny joke. Nobody moves without permission. Going rogue and oppressing some political group? Even if they wanted to do that, they are heavily controlled. When she was an auditor, there was a very strict procedure for what to do if you randomly pulled a file of someone you knew.

    It is not a fun job, but it has paid the bills and provided health insurance, while I worked as a nurse for agencies, that generally do not pay for our health insurance, and allowed her some months off, most years, to be with the kids. She is being phased out, and will be gone in a few years, about the time we can live on the Social alone. Keep this one fact in mind: Nothing is by happenstance. If someone is rude to you, they were probably encouraged to be so. Or, it’s his last day before retirement, and he has always wanted to do this. :)p

  20. AMartel Says:

    Sounds like the same guy! Or maybe they’re cloning them? Super snarky. I really could not believe what I was hearing and hung on the line to see how far he would take it (and also because I wanted my damn money back). Wish I’d recorded it.

  21. David Swadell Says:

    The last time I recall the IRS on the hot seat with Congress, Bubba was in the White House and even he was jumping on the bandwagon to bring the agency to heel. That’s when somebody broke the story about him abusing a starstruck young intern as his sex slave and suddenly no one cared about the IRS any longer.

  22. Ira Says:

    Bruce Bialosky, a author and a CPA/tax professional had a similarly scary, frustrating experience dealing with 3 IRS employees and two Treasury Department Inspector General employees all about a single matter. See,

  23. Paul in Boston Says:

    “That’s a good reason—one of many, actually—to support the scrapping of the IRS (one of Ted Cruz’s campaign proposals, by the way) and the imposition of some completely different system that doesn’t require so much centralization of power and so much intrusiveness.”

    Yep. Repeal the IRS amendment and institute a national sales tax, say, 10%. Then everyone pays, it’s trivally simple, and the feds and the states can fight over the proceeds and leave the rest of us anonymous and alone. Plus it has the benefit that the welfare class and the soak the rich crowd will have to increase their own taxes if they want more benefits.

  24. neo-neocon Says:

    Paul in Boston:

    Ah, but I very much doubt it’s their intention to leave us “anonymous and alone.”

  25. David Swadell Says:

    It will take a miracle to get any real tax reform. Too many lawyers and accountants depend on the system.

  26. Cap'n Rusty Says:


    My reference was not to the contents of the letter you received. Though I might sound paranoid to suggest this, I am concerned that the IRS may keep information about the political stance of the taxpayers. After all, we know that the IRS purposefully delayed granting 501(C)(3) status to tea party groups prior to the 2012 elections, and that was obviously based upon their political positions.

    “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

  27. parker Says:

    Cap’n Rusty,

    I have no reason to doubt the IRS (and other agencies) knows your party registration and any ‘subversive’ connections each one of us has. The USPS keeps track of everyone’s mail. As a lifetime NRA member, a lifetime member of Iowa Gun Owners, a lifetime member of Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership (don’t have to be a Jew to support them), and other dangerous domestic terrorist organizations I know I am on a list or lists within the alphabet soup.

    F*^k them and the horse they rode in on. All they can do is kill you, and if they want to kill you they also want to kill your family, friends, and pets. That may seem extreme to others, but my give a damn is busted. Reagan’s nine most terrifying words remains true.

    I am just a human who wants to be free and have no desire to harm anyone, although I am capable of going berserk if provoked. For your amusement:

  28. Dan Says:

    A key to Reagan’s success was firing the FAA air traffic controllers. It set a tone that I am sure Trump would love to duplicate.
    Wouldn’t it be GREAT to fire a couple divisions of the IRS and just replace them with a reduced set of newbies. IRS is simple work, compared to ATC.

  29. KLSmith Says:

    Wow. Guess it probably wouldn’t have done any good to have complained to his supervisor. Hopefully creeps like him will not want not to work under Trump and just quit. Nah, a good paying job you can’t get fired from. Most will ride it out.

  30. neo-neocon Says:

    Capn’ Rusty:

    Oh, anything’s possible. But I’m actually a very small fish, comparatively speaking.

  31. The Other Chuck Says:

    What a lousy way to spend an hour and a half! Condolences Neo. Since the IRS has the personal skinny on all of us, including former addresses, maiden names, work history, liens, etc., maybe you ran into someone who is prejudiced against your ethnic and cultural background, assuming you have a given or married name that matches a common profile. It’s a crappy thought, but not unreasonable in an age of group identity. Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for it.

  32. parker Says:


    Big bureaucratic fish eat small fish (alive). Other Chuck is correct, there is no privacy and everything about you, me, Other Chuck, and anyone else is stored on a NSA server more secure than hrc’s server. It is not paranoia to deeply distrust DC, it is merely common sense.

  33. The Other Chuck Says:


    You’ve got that right. I had an eye opener recently while trying to help my sister-in-law with a Social Security problem. Because she is an invalid and wheel chair bound, I visited the local SS office (an appropriate two letters) on her behalf, with signed wavers while she sat ready at home by the phone for any needed verification. As it turned out, they had the most intimate knowledge of her life, including her mother’s maiden name and place of birth, cross references with all of her siblings, complete history of her past addresses, her marriages, her children and their histories. Within the SS computer system they have complete access by reference to that 9 digit number we are assigned. Ditto the IRS. There is one hell of an interlinked data bank somewhere.

  34. Yancey Ward Says:

    But I’m actually a very small fish, comparatively speaking.

    Well, a service representative wouldn’t dare insult a big fish. All in all, though, I think you just got a bad apple on maybe a bad day. It happens.

  35. geokstr Says:

    KLSmith Says:
    “Hopefully creeps like him will not want not to work under Trump and just quit.”

    According to surveys, between 25%-35% of the civil service threatened to quit if Trump won. We should be so lucky.

    And, of course, the predictable plague of “entertainment” millionaires – Sharpton, Lena Dunham, Samuel L Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Amy Schumer, Cher, Whoopi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg(!), Streisand and many other “artists” and “celebrities” stated their intent to move if President Trump became a reality.

  36. blert Says:

    Dan Says:
    November 29th, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    A key to Reagan’s success was firing the FAA air traffic controllers. It set a tone that I am sure Trump would love to duplicate.


    Dan Reagan never fired any air traffic controllers.

    They fired themselves.

    They had a no-strike contract.

    The strike was a wild-cat strike that embarrassed the union’s top brass.

    Reagan merely re-stated the LAW.

    Quite a few ATC came back to work.

    The rest were not ‘fired,’ they’d simply left their jobs, per the union contract and civil service regulations.

    Reagan merely re-stated the terms of the ATC master contract.

  37. Nick Says:

    I really doubt that bottom-rung guy working the phones for the IRS has access to NSA files, or cares about your politics.

  38. Roy Says:


    I distinctly recall that Reagan got on national TV and stated that if the PATco people out on strike did not return to work by a particular deadline – which I believe was two days later – they would be *terminated*. As in “fired” and their replacements hired.

    It was controversial at the time but I lauded him for that. It did not go over well with the rest of my pro-union family members.

    However, one of my cousins, who was in his twenties at the time, took advantage of the hiring situation and became an air traffic controller shortly thereafter. He just recently retired.

  39. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    This makes my blood boil. I would not have been able to remain so polite. It’s the powerlessness against a petty bully (or not so petty, with the power of the IRS behind him) that makes it so enraging.

    On the other hand, I had written dealings with the IRS recently in which they were – though slower than a sloth — eventually fair, courteous and even generous. I appealed from a penalty that was imposed as the result of the negligence of a tax preparer. Of course, the IRS did not have to grant the appeal, since of course I’m responsible even though I didn’t do it — but they were merciful and sent a polite letter waiving the penalty and interest, though with the clear warning that it was a one-time-only dispensation. I was surprised. They aren’t all bad apples, apparently.

  40. Ray Says:

    I had a fight with the IRS about my 2005 tax which was finally settled in my favor. At one time the IRS claimed I owed about $125,000 in back taxes. I paid thousands of dollars in lawyer expenses and finally won in 2014. It cost lots of money to fight the IRS but I joked, millions for lawyers but not one cent for the IRS.

  41. neo-neocon Says:


    Yes, lawyers rather than the IRS!

    That’s quite a sum they were asking you for, though. Wow.

  42. neo-neocon Says:

    Mrs Whatsit:

    Yes, I’ve had decent dealings with them prior to this. That’s why this was so shocking. And it wasn’t in response to anything I’d done; it was from the git-go.

  43. Richard Saunders Says:

    A few tips from somebody who’s been doing this for nearly 40 years:

    In general, DON’T call the IRS. Not only will you have to listen to their awful music on hold, not only may you have to deal with unpleasant and uncooperative people but it’s generally a losing situation. Anything you say can and will be used against you, and nothing they say is binding. Once they key something you said, or something they THINK you said, into their computer system, it’s almost impossible to get it out.

    Almost every IRS notice has a return coupon or an address to write to. Use that. You control what is recorded that you say, and they have to respond in writing. Not only is that to your advantage, but it generally slows the process by months. Use Priority mail, UPS, FedEx, or certified mail to make sure you have proof of mailing and delivery.

    If you have to call an IRS call center, the person who answers will always give you his/her name and ID number. WRITE IT DOWN. If they don’t, immediately ask for it. If you wait until you’re in a screaming match, you may not get it. If the person is abusive or uncooperative, ask for his/her supervisor. If that doesn’t help, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Office and/or the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

    If serious money is involved, call your tax professional!

  44. Richard Saunders Says:

    Abolish the IRS? Never going to happen. Whether you’re collecting income tax or a national sales tax, there always has to be an administration and collection agency. Change the name, call it the Ministry of Silly Walks or the Bureau of Fish & Wildlife & Taxes, there still has to be one.

    Cutting back on the IRS budget is counter-productive. Congress makes the tax law more complicated every year, but then cuts the resources necessary to administer the law? What’s up with that? When I first started, back in the Bronze Age, there were lots of quality people in the IRS I could deal with. With budget cuts, there are fewer people and those that remain are of lower quality. Do you think that helps or hurts the administration of the tax law?

  45. Ymarsakar Says:

    Change the name, call it the Ministry of Silly Walks or the Bureau of Fish & Wildlife & Taxes, there still has to be one.

    In a private economy, people call them the banks, loan sharks, and credit card debt collectors.

    The IRS and other government lawyer/legal goons are more like an evolved version of the mafia. “Protection” dues are needed.

    but then cuts the resources necessary to administer the law?

    The idea and hope that Congress has cut anything, is why people placed their hope for change in Trum.

    It’s a good thing people are getting a personal idea/experience with the evil in DC. Otherwise people would be naturally inclined to ignore it as business as usual. Get along to go along. Even some Trum supporters have given their fealty to the Trum in return for some additional time, outsourcing the problem to someone else. The others ones have different agendas, like burning the system down.

  46. Patrick Says:

    This probably means that over time this guy has learned what he can get away with, and that would also mean there isn’t much oversight or accountability. Something to do with being a government employee, I don’t think they fire too many people.

    I did call the Colorado Revenue thing (whatever the state equivalent of the IRS is) and got through fairly quickly and talked to a polite and helpful woman who pointed out the very dumb mistake I’d made on my return.

  47. Big Maq Says:

    @parker – having done work for a variety of departments / agencies, you give them way too much credit for competency to have that kind of knowledge and the ease of access to it for their front line staff at the IRS.

    Anyone who’s seen what I have would be amazed at how far from well oiled omniscient machine they believe government to be.

    Bottom line is, as in Neo’s case, it is a crap shoot as to who one gets to deal with. Since there is no existential threat to the organization, employees have to be egregiously criminal to get fired – Awful service is not a firing offense.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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