Intern, Texas Public Policy Foundation
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Rohan Vaidya | October 27, 2017
When Iowa restaurant owner, Carole Hinders, received a visit from tax agents back in 2014, she had no idea that her entire livelihood was at stake. Her money, from over 40 years in business, was taken away in the blink of an eye by tax agents without so much as a warrant. The reason? She was suspected of being a criminal simply because of the way she chose to deposit money in her bank account. Hinders’ story is just one out of hundreds in a continuous trend gripping America: an IRS war on personal property.
Many Americans don’t realize that the agency has tremendous power in this area, granted by the Bank Secrecy Act of 1974, which was originally designed to curb money laundering. Under the act, business owners making deposits of over $10,000 must fill out a government report, meaning that those making repeated transactions under that amount immediately become suspected of “structuring” — intentionally doing so to avoid filling out that report. What started as well-intentioned legislation has now become a tool for the IRS to use in the forfeiture of money belonging to average, law-abiding citizens. After coming under heavy criticism for unwarranted seizures in recent years, the IRS revised its code, proclaiming that citizens could petition for their property back.
But reality tells a different story.
While well intentioned, the new proclamation does little to curb abuse, as honest business owners depositing less than $10,000 often do so for purely legitimate reasons and yet are still subject to seizure. In fact, a 2017 report published by the Department of Treasury finds that in more than 90 percent of structuring-related seizures between 2012 and 2014, the money in question was found to have been obtained legally. The New York Times reports that IRS seizures made pursuant to anti-structuring laws have risen dramatically over the past ten years, but that just one in five seizures are ever actually prosecuted on this basis. Even more troubling is the fact that cash is almost never voluntarily returned, necessitating an arduous litigation process that does not usually prove fruitful for even the most determined citizens. Simply put, when the IRS decides to take your money, you probably won’t ever get it back. These new so-called standards don’t provide a genuine impetus for more accountability.
This bloated agency has gone from a mere yearly annoyance to an active threat to Americans’ liberty and property. All Americans—whether liberal or conservative—should be horrified at the prospect that their legally obtained wealth can be taken by government bureaucrats with little explanation. In its pursuit of justice, the federal government has yet again proved itself an incompetent arbiter, making it eminently clear that serious reform to the current code is more necessary than ever before.