State hoping to draw clicks to tax season ‘filing zone’ site

Don’t mind the spooky music. The state Department of Revenue is trying to make tax time easier on Massachusetts residents this year, and it has employed a soundtrack.

Early next week, the department will launch a one-stop-shopping website for filing state taxes it calls The Filing Zone, which will include a spoof video with music from “The Twilight Zone.”

“What I’d like to do is have it be very taxpayer-centric,” Amy Pitter, revenue commissioner, told reporters on Friday. “We’re producing information here we’ve never produced before.”


The scary music is a nod to the anxiety some taxpayers feel as the April 15 deadline approaches.

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“We’re looking it right in the face. Everybody has a tough time, or dreads it,” said department communications director Ann Dufresne. “This is a fun way to help people deal with the dread of doing taxes.”

The site will include weekly pointers for the public, alternating between “don’t miss this” and “don’t even think about it,” a calendar of important dates, and the state’s free Web file for income application.

Only 6 percent of residents file paper returns. Next year the department is going to try to push more people to file electronically, perhaps by establishing filing kiosks in libraries in place of the blank paper returns, conducting outreach with senior centers, and possibly limiting the number of blank paper returns to a couple dozen at senior centers, Pitter said. “Ultimately, we’d like to get to all electronic,” Pitter said. She said a newly appointed advisory council would assist in coming up with changes for next year.

The new site will also host data, including daily updates on the number of returns, wait times, and the number of refunds. The site also has a summary of the 2012 tax filing season, which shows 3.512 million returns processed, with $1.245 billion disbursed in returns for an average of $510 per return. The average wait for an electronic refund turnaround was 4.4 days, and the wait for a paper turnaround was 12.5 days. About 69.5 percent of filers received a refund.


Data has also come in handy in the department’s operations, as it seeks to quash underreporting of income and ferret out fraudulent tax filings.

“We data-match with the Lottery Commission. We data-match with unemployment. And those are traditionally underreported income items,” Pitter said. She said, “We match more and more with other states.”

Pitter also said con artists will steal individuals’ identities and file taxes on their behalf, collecting illegitimate refunds and creating a headache for the person whose identity was stolen.

“It’s big business,” said Pitter, who distinguishes the organized fraud from underreporting. She said the agency had stopped $20 million in fraudulent refunds last year. Without disclosing the department’s methods for investigating fraud, Pitter said, “That’s something we think about all the time.”

The tax law for Massachusetts residents is no different this year than last, Pitter said. Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a portfolio of tax changes intended to raise $1.9 billion in annual revenue, and Pitter said she anticipated she will hear from lawmakers with questions about that.