IRS uses woman's tax refund to pay old debt incurred by her mother 30 years ago


Instead of a tax refund, a Houston woman got a nasty surprise. When her refund was being taken by the Social Security Administration to recoup an overpayment made 30 years ago, she turned to Action 13.

Ernestine Spears was expecting a nice sized tax refund -- $2,900. But the IRS sent that money somewhere else.

"They said that your refund may have been reduced because you may have owed money. We can't tell you who you owed it to, you'll find out who you owe when you get a letter," Spears said.

The letter from the U.S. Treasury Department said Spears owed money to the Social Security Administration.

"So I went to the Social Security Office and they told me when I was a child, my mother received Social Security and it was an overpayment. They said I am not getting my money back," Spears said.

Spears says she was told the overpayment to her mother happened 30 years ago when Spears was just 15.

"I asked them, 'Who was the check was made out to?' And they said, 'Your mom.' and I said, 'I never cashed that check.' And they said, 'I am sorry, you are not getting that money back,'" she said.

It turns out the money sent to Spears' mother may have been intended for Spears all along.

"Adults are not required to explain to their kids that money is being paid for their support and you can be liable for it," CPA accountant Bob Martin said.

Martin says not long ago, the Treasury Department would give up trying to recoup overpayments that were 10 years old, but there is no longer a statute of limitations.

So we called the Social Security Office to ask about the missing refund.

"Someone contacted me from Social Security, thank God, and they told me to come fill out a protest and they would be able to help me get my money back," Spears said.

The Social Security Administration could not talk about the case, citing privacy rights.

Spears says she did not even know she could protest the move until after we contacted Social Security for her.

If your refund gets taken, you can protest that decision too.

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