Identity thieves target tax returns to rip off refunds - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Identity thieves target tax returns to rip off refunds

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"I have some concerns about what is going to happen in the future," said Frank Growney of Shoreham.

For non-experts, filing your taxes can be confusing. And when Frank Growney went to file his 2011 taxes, he ran into unexpected problems.

"It was rejected, which surprised me. I tried two or three times, in matter of fact, I couldn't figure out it was rejected. But it kept coming up with the same error code, which indicated there was already a return with my ID," Growney said.

He was told by the Internal Revenue Service it was mostly likely a computer error, but just in case, to file a fraud complaint. A year and multiple fraud complaints later, Growney says he finally heard from the IRS. But it wasn't the news he was hoping for.

"Just a few days ago, I got a confirmation from them that indeed my identity had been stolen," he said.

Someone else had gotten a hold of his personal information and filed Growney's taxes, and reaped the benefits of over $7,000 in tax returns.

"It is something that we haven't seen a lot of. As a matter of fact, I can't recall getting a complaint like this. So, I am hoping this is not something that is going to start taking place a great deal," Vt. State Police Sgt. James Hogan said.

Although Growney's case is unusual, he isn't the only one. In 2010, the IRS initiated over 200 investigations of fraudulent tax returns. In just a few years, that number has tripled. And these tax return bandits are not stopping at the grave.

"We also see it if there is a deceased taxpayer, they will basically prepare a return as if it was them, and then they will get money back before the family members realize what is happening," said T.J. Sabotka, a certified public accountant.

Sabotka says the ability to file taxes online has made it easier for this type of fraud to happen. The IRS is currently collaborating with financial institutes and law enforcement agencies across the nation to help cut down on this crime.

"I'm hoping that will be the end of it," Growney said. "Time will tell."

Although Growney's real tax return would have been significantly lower than $7,000, the CPA says if the IRS owes you a refund, they usually will stick to that promise. But when a victim will see their rightful refund is unknown.

With online filing, you can only submit your taxes once, so the sooner you do it, the less a chance a thief can beat you to it. And, as with all identity theft, the IRS recommends being vigilant with credit cards and bank accounts, and to only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary.

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