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S. Florida Is Ground Zero For Taxpayer Identity Theft

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MIAMI (CBS4) – With the April 15th tax deadline less than two weeks away, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers are still waiting for last years’ refunds.

So what’s the problem?

South Florida is ground zero for the worst tax refund identity theft rate in the country.

Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

CBS4 Chief Consumer Reporter Al Sunshine found there is some new help for victims to finally get their money back from Uncle Sam.

Laurie King said she was worried about filing her 2012 tax return after someone filed a fraudulent tax return using her name last year.

“There’s not one person that I’ve talked to that hasn’t been touched by it or knows somebody who’s been touched by it,” said King.

It took almost a year for the South Miami-Dade waitress to get her money back from the IRS after the scammers stole her refund. She said she really needed that check to help pay some bills.

“Finally, 50 weeks, almost a full year. I think it’s preposterous. I really don’t think it should have taken that long,” said King.

It turns out King was not the only one on the waiting list. The IRS recently revealed it had a backlog of about 300,000 identity theft victims still waiting for their refunds.

What To Do If Your Identity Was Stolen

Pembroke Pines teacher Joan Rubenstein was scammed twice – in 2010 and 2011.

“I was in more shock because they said they were going to red flag it and it shouldn’t happen again and it did,” said Rubenstein.

Like Laurie King, the IRS delayed sending out Rubenstein’s legitimate refund for almost a year.

What would she like to tell the taxman?

“I would like to tell them that it’s horrible that it’s happening. It’s our money, they’re paying out twice. People don’t have the money to throw away like that and they need to figure out a way to make it better,” said Rubenstein.

Broward financial planner Ron Myers believes the blame for this latest nationwide scam and delays in returning victims’ refunds was triggered by Congress itself.

“You’re seeing people with anywhere from a 6 to a 14-15 month wait for a refund,” added Myers.

“In your opinion has Congress made it too easy for criminals to scam the IRS and scam taxpayers,” asked Sunshine.

“Clearly. Clearly without question,” replied Myers. “I think the Congress is eager to get people their refunds. The IRS has in many cases antiquated systems. The IRS has not caught up with the electronic age, they’re trying.”

“And as a result what are we seeing,” asked Sunshine.

“We are seeing a tremendous amount of fraud to the tune of billions of dollars,” said Myers.

U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz doesn’t think Congress caused the problem. She’s just introduced new legislation which would increase penalties for anyone filing a false taz return. The measure, however, doesn’t include requiring the IRS to speed up getting refunds back to victims like King and Rubenstein.

“Getting the refunds back is important, but what’s more important is stopping the crime,” said Wasserman Schultz. “I’ve filed legislation called the Stop Taxpayer Identity Theft Act which would increase the penalties on criminals who steal taxpayer identities and make it significant easier for them to get caught committing those crimes.”

With Wasserman Schultz’s help, Rubenstein was finally able to get her refund back and a get a special security code from the IRS to prevent future thefts.

After CBS 4 contacted Senator Bill Nelson about King’s problem, his office was finally able to get the IRS to speed up her case and finally process her refund.

“You did fantastic, I’m relieved, I can breath again. I don’t have to worry about this, it’s done, it’s taken care of,” said King.

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft victim and is still waiting for last years’ refund should contact their representatives in Washington D.C. to see if they can help speed up the process with the IRS.

You also need to file an identity theft affidavit with the IRS and FTC.

You also need to contact the national credit bureaus to put a fraud warning on your account.

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