Lou Ann Bassan didn’t try to get cute and write her check with spooky invisible ink. She used the same pen she always does and was totally convinced that she properly filled out a check to the IRS. They mailed it back to her and it was totally blank. There is a mundane solution to the mystery but it turns out to be interesting all by itself.
Vanishing ink was IRS fault
When the IRS erased the ink on her check, accidentally on purpose, they actually did San Francisco resident Lou Ann Bassan a big favor without realizing it.
Ms. Bassan didn’t think it was a good thing either, when she first learned about it. Ball point doesn’t just disappear off a check all by itself and having it happen on her check makes her look bad.
“It was really very surreal, like I cannot believe this is happening… maybe it’s a secret government program?” The whole disappearing ink issue started when she filed a petition with the U.S. Tax court.
She heard Joe was getting tough and didn’t want armed IRS agents pounding or her door, so she disputed a big penalty the revenooers tried to slap her with by appealing the decision. She has the right to do that but there’s a fee.
To cover the $60 filing fee, she wrote the clerk of court a personal check and forgot all about it. A couple of weeks later, her check came back. Without the ink. It appeared to be a totally blank check.
“The date’s not there, the payee’s not there, the amount’s not there… my first thought was, ‘Oh my god I sent the check and I forgot to fill it out.‘”
She didn’t forget
Looking a little more intently at the document, she could see faint traces where the ink had been. After she got done having a panic attack and being suddenly overwhelmed by conspiracy theories, she noticed the note.
A cover letter along with her problem payment revealed the trouble. She didn’t forget anything. “The tax court notice says the mail had been ‘irradiated‘ – zapped with radiation.” That’s what made the writing disappear.
Ms. Bassan was floored. “I can’t believe this. Irradiated? I’ve never heard of any such thing. It’s like something from a sci-fi movie or a spy whodunnit.” Actually, it’s standard procedure now.
Every since someone mailed real live anthrax to congress, every piece of mail sent to Uncle Sam gets the same treatment. They recommend special ink to avoid the problem, but its pricey. Visa works much better for payments, they suggest.
The notice advised Bassan to use a pen that resists irradiation if she wanted to write another check. “A pen resistant to radiation? What is that?” She wondered. After looking, she found some “but they cost $254 for a pack of 100.” She’s “not gonna go buy a special pen just to write one check. I refuse.” That’s when she went for help from her local news consumer advocate.
They made some calls and were told that yes, “radiated mail can become brittle or yellowed. The tax court tells us ink disappears from its mail.” It doesn’t happen all the time but it can. The good news is that before she could replace the check, the IRS reconsidered her penalty and reversed it. She didn’t need to go to court over it after all.