Here’s some rare good news for taxpayers. The acting head of the IRS has announced a massive national crackdown to prevent billions of dollars in taxpayer refunds from being stolen by scammers nationwide.
And the agency also is apologizing to identity theft victims over how long it is taking for scammed taxpayers to get their legitimate refunds back.
The national crackdown follows recent warnings that the IRS could possibly issue as much as $21 billion worth of bogus tax refunds over the next five years. Task forces in 32 states began the year focusing on trying to make it harder for ID thieves to rip off taxpayer identities in the hardest hit areas of the country including New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa and Miami.
Federal prosecutors say South Florida remains one of the worst places in the country for identity theft and it warns that Tax ID theft here is spreading like a virus. “We just had someone who owned a dry cleaning business get involved in this,” explained U.S. Attorney for South Florida Wifredo Ferre.
“We have ex-NFL football players here in South Florida committing this kind of crime. We’ve seen individuals working for Holocaust survivors. We have seen folks in Social Security offices commit this kind of fraud and we’ve also had an indictment of an ex-Marine who was committing this kind of fraud.”
The IRS says it also is trying to get legitimate refunds back to identity theft victims like South Miami-Dade’s Lauri King. She has been waiting since last March to get her refund back after learning her tax ID had been ripped off.
The agency confirms it still has about 300,000 taxpayers waiting to get their refunds back, after processing about one half million checks so far for earlier victims. It says it is trying to cut processing time, which is still running about 180 days.
King said she needs her refund now.
“I think it’s insane,” she said. “This is crazy; it’s ridiculous. I mean we’re going on 2013 already and I haven’t even settled up on 2011 yet; it’s ridiculous.”
Her case has finally been referred to the agency’s taxpayer advocates office after her problem was brought up to the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida).
The IRS says it has issued more than 700,000 special taxpayer identification numbers the past year to try and prevent victims like Lauri from having her tax refund ripped off a second time this tax season.
Watch Al Sunshine’s “Money Watch” reports Monday-Friday. You may find Al’s blog at www.cbsmiami.com.