The "gotcha" program that intercepts tax refunds to pay child-support arrears may have gotten more than it should have.

Because of a programming error, the Office of Recovery Services has received an unknown number of tax refunds to which it isn't entitled. ORS officials want to make it as easy as possible for those who are owed money to claim it."What happened was, the Tax Commission runs a tape of the people who are owed a refund, and that's compared to information we provide on returns that should be intercepted," said Joyce Allred, Recovery Services.

When a return matches an intercept, the money is electronically transferred to ORS, to be credited to child-support arrears. But this year, some refunds were intercepted in cases where the debt had been paid, she said.

Despite early confusion about how it happened, officials in ORS and the state's Division of Finance have tracked the problem down. The division pulls the refund checks of taxpayers on the intercept list. But an old intercept tape was not deleted from the division's computer system, and it triggered the mixup.

It could be compared to updating a mailing list without purging the old list. The new names were added, but the old names were not removed.

When ORS gets the transferred refund checks, staffers apply the amount received to the debt. But that takes time, Allred said. Until then, they have no way of knowing whether the intercept was made in error. And they don't know how many people are affected.

Those who believe their tax refunds were improperly intercepted should call the Office of Recovery Services at 536-8500. Choose the option that gets an operator and ask to be transferred to customer service.

If ORS records show the debt is satisfied, the intercepted refund will be released immediately.