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Tax return fraud explodes in Tampa

Adam Jablonowski Contributor

Millions of dollars have been stolen by crooks filing fraudulent tax refunds in Tampa, according to city police.

The explosion in tax return fraud was first reported last year, yet increased awareness hasn’t slowed the illegal activity.

At least four Tampa police officers had their identities stolen and tax returns blocked this year. Officer Edwin Perez explained his experience to Tampa Bay Online.

Perez found out from his accountant that the Internal Revenue Service had blocked his tax return because someone else had already filed for his refund using his wife’s name, date of birth and Social Security number.

Perez anticipates that he will have wait about a year to see his $7,000 refund.

Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor believes that criminals are obtaining personal information from individuals who work with sensitive documents. Possible sources include medical offices, schools and assisted living facilities. Perez’s wife believes her identity was stolen at a medical center.

“[The fraud is] ten times as bad” as it was last year, Perez told the Tampa Bay Online.

Perez said police have apprehended several suspects. He noted a 16-year-old stopped on his way to school had a list of names, accompanied by various types information used to commit tax fraud. Not limited to high school, the officer also arrested a 76-year-old man with a laptop case full of pre-loaded debit cards believed to have been purchased with fraudulent tax returns.

“Out in the street, everybody is doing it,” Castor told the Tampa Bay Online. “We’re hearing stories about high school kids doing this. It’s just incredible,” she added.

Castor believes that reaching out to the IRS is the only way authorities can keep up with the volume of fraud.

Castor met with three federal agents last week and said the IRS is applying additional filters to block fraudulent refund checks from being sent. However, new programs have apparently experienced little success.

The IRS says new filters will prevent multiple refund checks being sent to the same address. But in one instance police documented more than 200 refunds being sent to a single address.

“They have made some changes, but the insurmountable hurdle still is in place,” Castor said. “They still cannot share information with law enforcement. That needs to be fixed… But I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the real problem here. It starts at the filing. It has got to be fixed.”

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