Authorities say at least half a million people have been victims of tax fraud since 2008, yet many aspects of this crime are misunderstood. Here are some common questions and answers.
How does tax fraud work?
Criminals are using efile programs, including TurboTax, to file false tax returns. They use legitimate names and Social Security numbers, then enter fraudulent income information. In the Tampa Bay area, they usually aim for a profit of about $9,000, which they often elect to receive on a preloaded debit card.
There's a perception on the street that refunds of $10,000 or more attract more scrutiny.
What can I do to protect myself?
File early. Also, guard personal information, including Social Security numbers, as much as possible. Don't respond to emails that ask for personal information.
What's being done to stop this?
The Internal Revenue Service says it's working hard to flag suspicious returns. It's also developing a pilot program in Tampa that would allow the IRS to share tax fraud victims' personal information with local police, which would aid in police investigations. Federal lawmakers have introduced a bill that would help in this effort.
How are people getting names and Social Security numbers in the first place?
A criminal's first stop is federal records that list Social Security numbers of the deceased. They also pay employees at nursing homes, doctors' offices and other businesses for this information. Some steal mail.
I'm a victim. What should I do?
Report the identity theft immediately to the IRS at 1-800-908-4490. You'll also likely need to fill out an "identity theft affidavit" found on the IRS website: tinyurl.com/6u4ff6e.
Where can I get more information on protecting my identity?
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is holding two town hall meetings May 3 on the topic of consumer fraud and identity theft: 9 to 11 a.m. at the Cyrus Greene Community Center, 2101 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Tampa, and 2 to 4 p.m. at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S in St. Petersburg.