Tax refund fraud on the rise


EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- Tax season means it’s time to crunch the numbers. But police and local tax prep companies say filing your return could turn into an even longer process because of criminals stealing your information.

The IRS says it’s launching more efforts to crack down on identity theft and fraudulent tax returns.

According to the IRS’s website the number of criminal investigations into identity theft tripled from 2011 to 2012.

It says tax season is one of the most popular times to find out your identity has been stolen and used to commit what's known as return fraud.

“When we filed a return we filed electronically and then we got an email back from the IRS saying a return had been filed with that same social security number,” Craig Olsen said.

Craig Olsen has been an accountant for almost 30 years, but the CPA with the firm Larson Allen says this tax season is a little different than the rest. Olsen says one of his clients found out this year that their identity was stolen and used to file fraudulent returns. It’s a crime that's become common across the country.

“You don’t need to be very tech savvy to actually file a false tax return,” Olson explained. “All they need is a name and a social security number and they can file a false tax return and get a refund so it’s become a very easy way to get money.”

Here's how the IRS says identity theft has added up in the past few years. In 2011 there were 276 criminal investigations into identity theft. That number tripled to 898 in 2012 which prompted identity screening efforts by the IRS starting in 2013. Since those efforts started the IRS says it’s stopped more than $20 billion from falling into the hands of criminals.

“This year Wisconsin is adding new protection features too. They will be sending out quizzes to people if there is something in their return that may be identity theft,” Olsen added.

Olsen says the State Department of Revenue has also stepped up its identity screening efforts starting this year . To prevent return fraud he says the state will be sending notices to anyone who might have a return that appears to be fraudulent. In order for you to get your money, return filers must correctly answer a few short questions that only the filer should know.

As for protecting your identity, the IRS says you should be careful to shred all documents containing personal information, never carry your social security card with you and never give personal information to anyone over the phone.

You can find more information related to identity theft on both the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s website and the IRS’s website. You can find those on the right hand side of the screen under Related Items.


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