Kansas City woman with long name has even longer battle with IRS to prove her identity

Problem Solvers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jonesther Michelle Lewis-Russell dialed the number to the IRS for the 12th time in a week. Waiting on hold with the IRS has become a big part of her day.

“They usually say something about heavy call volume,” Lewis-Russell said as telephone-hold music began to play.

Each call can take 3-4 hours. Despite Lewis-Russell’s persistence, she still hasn’t reached anyone who can solve her problem. It’s a problem that began two months ago when she was trying to apply for a special IRS pin that would allow her to become a tax preparer. She kept being denied access to a pin.

“They kept saying my name and Social Security number didn’t match,” Lewis-Russell said.

To try and figure out what was wrong, Lewis-Russell dug into her own IRS online tax file. That’s when she found a document, filled out by someone at the IRS, which didn’t have her name listed correctly.

“They got rid of my full name and got rid of my middle name,” she said.

Someone at the IRS had changed her name from Jonesther Michelle Lewis-Russell to J Lewis Russ. The IRS gave her a phone number to call to solve the problem.

“So I called them several times, but they said they couldn’t do anything for me,” Lewis-Russell said.

She decided to pay a visit to the IRS office at Kansas City’s Union Station. She thought if she made an appointment to show up in person, she’d have a better chance of proving to the IRS who she really is.

“I took my driver’s license, my Social Security card, my last year’s taxes, my birth certificate and my passport,” she said.

But no one at the IRS in Union Station could help her. Instead they gave her a new number to call.

She went upstairs to get a better signal and dialed the number. It directed her back to the same number she’d already been dialing for weeks. You know, the number where she had spent hours on hold and no one could help her.

“So I went back downstairs (to the IRS office), and they said you have to have a new appointment to see them because my appointment time was over,” she said.

Getting a new appointment would take another two weeks.

Worried that she would spend the rest of her life in what was quickly becoming a Monty Python sketch, she called FOX4 Problem Solvers for help.

We asked her to call the IRS one more time, just so we could get video of her on the phone. Here’s the good news: An hour later, she actually reached someone who – finally – was able to solve her problem.

That IRS customer service agent told her that her hyphenated name was too long (although she’d been using it to file taxes for 20 years). They asked her to choose an abbreviated version of her name.

She did. Problem solved.

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