FRANKLIN (WITI) -- A truly "taxing" experience for a Franklin woman who is the victim of identity theft. She didn't know it until she got a letter in the mail from the IRS. Her tax refund could be going to someone else, and she's not the only victim dealing with a mess like this.
It came on a Monday afternoon. Joy Krowski says she never thought she'd be so happy to get something in the mail from the IRS.
"I'm so glad I got this letter," Krowski said.
The IRS needed more information to process her tax return.
"Inquiring about my 1040 EZ form. I knew we didn't file that type of form," Krowski said.
After a few phone calls, it became clear for Krowski. Her social security number had been compromised. Someone else had used her name and number to file taxes -- presumably to try to steal her tax refund.
"The thieves have created an industry. A lot them are being massed produced too -- doing thousands of tax returns fraudulently," Hammernik & Associates President Dale Hammernik said.
Hammernik says hackers are getting your personal information through data breaches. That's why it's best to file your taxes as soon as possible. If someone files a second return in your name, that return is locked out of the system.
"Make sure you file as soon as possible so you are the first one in," Hammernik said.
"I'm real livid about this," Krowski said.
When Krowski went to file a police report, she discovered another surprise.
"When I was at the police station, doing my report, three other people came in with the same problem of ID theft," Krowski said.
A representative with the Franklin Police Department says many departments in the Milwaukee area have received similar complaints.
"There really isn't a criminal because they can never catch these people. They don't even know if they live in this country. You have to be so careful on everything you do," Krowski said.
Krowski says she was part of the Blue Cross Blue Shied data breach that occurred in late 2014. She believes that resulted in her social security number getting stolen.
IRS officials say you can check the status of your refund on their website. They also say the only way the IRS will ever contact you is by mail -- not by telephone or email.
See below for identity theft, return fraud tips and information from the IRS:
Stopping identity theft and refund fraud is a top priority for the Internal Revenue Service. For the 2015 filing season, the IRS continues to expand these efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims.
IRS employees are working to prevent refund fraud, investigate identity theft-related crimes and help taxpayers who have been victimized by identity thieves.
Refund Fraud Detection and Prevention
The IRS continues to increase its efforts against refund fraud, which includes identity theft. As a result of these aggressive efforts to combat identity theft from 2011 through October 2014, the IRS has stopped 19 million suspicious returns and protected more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds.
For 2015, the IRS will continue to increase both the number and efficiency of the identity theft data models and filters that are used to identify potentially fraudulent returns. These pre-refund filters stop the vast majority of fraudulent returns. Additionally, the IRS continues to expand its partnerships with financial institutions to identity and stop fraudulent refunds.
Starting January 2015, the IRS also will limit the number of direct deposit refunds to a single financial account or pre-paid debit card to three. Fourth and subsequent valid refunds will convert to paper checks and be mailed to the taxpayer. The limit also will stop certain tax preparers who improperly deposit client refunds into their own accounts.
Increasing Efforts to Help Victims
The IRS understands that identity theft is a frustrating, complex process for victims. While identity thieves steal information from sources outside the tax system, the IRS is often the first to inform a victim that identity theft has occurred. The IRS is working hard to resolve identity theft cases as quickly as possible.
While the IRS has made considerable progress in this area, more work remains. Fighting identity theft is an ongoing battle as identity thieves continue to create new ways of stealing personal information and using it for their gain. Identity theft cases are among the most complex handled by the IRS. The IRS is continually reviewing processes and policies to minimize the incidence of identity theft and to help those who find themselves victimized. Among the steps underway to help victims:
- IP PIN: The IRS Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) is a unique six digit number that is assigned annually to victims of identity theft for use when filing their federal tax return that shows that a particular taxpayer is the rightful filer of the return.
- IP PIN Expansion: The IRS is offering certain taxpayers the opportunity to opt in to the IP PIN program. These are taxpayers who may be unaware that they are identity theft victims but the IRS identified them because their accounts have indications of identity theft.
- IP PIN Pilot: The IRS will continue its IP PIN pilot program that allows taxpayers who filed tax returns last year from Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia to opt into the IP PIN program.
- IP PIN changes: This year, the IRS uses an online process through IRS.gov that will allow taxpayers who have an IP PIN requirement and lose their IP PIN to create an account and receive an IP PIN online.
- Victim case resolution: These are extremely complex cases to resolve, frequently touching on multiple issues and multiple tax years. The IRS is working hard to streamline its internal process. A typical case can take 120 days to resolve, and the IRS is working to reduce that time period.
- More information is available on IRS.gov, including the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.
IRS Criminal Investigation
In fiscal year 2014, the IRS initiated 1,063 identity theft related investigations. Criminal Investigation enforcement efforts resulted in 748 sentencings as compared to 438 in FY 2013, an increase of 75 percent and the incarceration rate rose 7.1 percent to 87.7 percent. The courts imposed significant jail time with the average months to serve in FY 2014 at 43 months as compared to 38 months in FY 2013 — the longest sentencing being 27 years.
The nationwide Law Enforcement Assistance Program provides for the disclosure of federal tax return information associated with the accounts of known and suspected victims of identity theft with the express written consent of those victims. There are now more than 755 state/local law enforcement agencies from 47 states participating. For FY 2014, more than 6,776 requests were received from state and local law enforcement agencies.
The Identity Theft Clearinghouse (ITC) continues to develop and refer identity theft refund fraud schemes to Criminal Investigation (CI) Field Offices for investigation. Since its inception in FY12, it has received over 7,600 individual identity theft leads. These leads involved approximately 1.47 million returns with over $6.8 billion in refunds claimed.
CI continues to be the lead agency or actively involved in more than 78 multi-regional task forces or working groups including state/local and federal law enforcement agencies solely focusing on identity theft.
Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft
|We know identity theft is a frustrating process for victims. We are committed to working with you to resolve your case as quickly as possible.
What is tax-related identity theft?
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.
Generally, an identity thief will use your SSN to file a false return early in the year. You may be unaware you are a victim until you try to file your taxes and learn one already has been filed using your SSN.
Know the warning signs
Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive an IRS notice or letter that states that:
· More than one tax return was filed using your SSN;
· You owe additional tax, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return;
· IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.
Steps to take if you become a victim
· File a report with law enforcement.
· Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records:
o Equifax, www.Equifax.com, 1-800-525-6285
o Experian, www.Experian.com, 1-888-397-3742
o TransUnion, www.TransUnion.com, 1-800-680-7289
· Contact your financial institutions, and close any accounts opened without your permission or tampered with.
· Check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually. You can create an account online at www.ssa.gov.
If your SSN is compromised and you know or suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, take these additional steps:
· Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided
· Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Use a fillable form at IRS.gov, print, then mail or fax according to instructions.
· Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. We have teams available to assist.
How to reduce your risk
· Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card or any document with your SSN on it.
· Don’t give a business your SSN just because they ask – only when absolutely necessary.
· Protect your personal financial information at home and on your computer.
· Check your credit report annually.
· Check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually.
· Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches and change passwords for Internet accounts.
· Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or the Internet unless you have either initiated the contact or are sure you know who is asking.