Imagine going to file your tax return, only to discover someone else has already filed it and received your tax refund check.
With Tax Day around the corner, some tax fraud criminals are getting ready to start stealing identities and filing fraudulent tax returns. As you may have heard from recent news stories, Florida leads the nation in the number of identity theft complaints, with Tampa coming in first and Miami second for number of fraudulent tax returns filed.
That’s why I’ve been hosting fraud prevention seminars with representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service, Broward Sheriff’s Office and Miami-Dade Police Department, all across my district to ensure you have the information you need to protect yourself.
Identity theft can occur in a variety of manners – whether through using someone’s name to establish a telephone account, stealing someone’s Social Security number to obtain a credit card, or spending thousands of dollars using a stolen credit card number. Whatever the method, dealing with identity theft can be emotionally and physically exhausting, damaging to your finances, and time-consuming to correct.
These tax return thieves are racking up our hard-earned money by the hundreds of millions without ever having to hold a victim at gunpoint or put themselves at risk. For my part, I’ve been working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that we protect constituents from fraud.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, which has been recording consumer complaints nationwide since 2000, identity theft has remained the number one consumer fraud complaint. In 2011, more than 938,664 tax returns and $6.5 billion were associated with fraudulent tax refunds involving identity theft.
It is time to make the prosecution of tax return identity theft a greater priority, and that’s why I introduced the Stopping Tax Offenders and Prosecuting Identity Theft Act (STOP Identity Theft Act). This bill would strengthen penalties for identity thieves, as well as expand the definition of an identity theft victim to include not only individuals, but also businesses and organizations that have had their identities stolen for phishing schemes in an attempt to get sensitive information from consumers.
Thankfully, the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS are hard at work making sure that taxpayers who are victims of identity theft get the support they need to get their financial lives back in order. Even though the IRS has tripled the number of investigations and doubled the number of staff working on cases in the last year, the number of thieves is also on the rise. Every day they are working to combat them – in conjunction with lawmakers, financial institutions, and President Obama – to ensure that taxpayers have the information they need to protect themselves from identity theft and the chaos it can bring.
As you file your taxes, please be certain to safeguard all of your personal information. If you are the victim of fraud, or your identity is stolen, immediately file a complaint with the FTC by calling 1-877-438-4338; TTY 1-866-653-4261 or visit www.ftc.gov/complaint and contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. I am proud to be an advocate for the people of South Florida, and my office is always open to you. You can reach us in Pembroke Pines at 954-437-3936, in Aventura at 305-936-5724 and in Washington, DC at 202-225-7931.
I’m also available online at www.wassermanschultz.house.gov, where you can sign up for my e-newsletter. You can also keep up with my work for you on Facebook at RepDWS, and on Twitter and Instagram through @RepDWStweets.