MIAMI (CBS4) - For the first time, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate unveiled how they plan to stop a growing national scam that’s stolen billions of dollars in tax money from Uncle Sam and legitimate taxpayers alike: tax refund fraud.
It’s the latest twist on the growing identity theft problem facing consumers here and across the country.
Critics say red tape and a massive federal agency, the IRS, delayed preventing even more losses this tax season because of conflicting marching orders from Washington lawmakers.
As CBS Miami has reported for a while now, several years ago Congress began mandating the IRS make it easier to file tax returns from home computers.
But what some critics say they didn’t realize was it would also make it easier for identity thieves to file phony returns too.
On Wednesday, Senate lawmakers finally started talking about new fixes that some critics say have already taken way too long.
“According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, we are losing over $5 billion dollars each year to the crime and now the problem is getting worse,” said Chairman Sen. Bill Nelson.
Facing a new filing deadline next week with hundreds of thousands of victims nationwide still waiting for last years’ tax refunds, Washington lawmakers are running out of time to put the tax ID thieves out of business.
Formal hearings by the Senate’s Special Committee on aging also turned the spotlight on our CBS Miami investigations into the growing scam which is now in its’ 3rd year.
“CBS, Channel 4, WFOR has really made this a cause celeb as they have tried to alert people to what is happening and these kinds of instances that our public is getting fleeced and in the process…the taxpayer is getting fleeced,” Nelson testified.
One of South Florida’s latest victims, Weston resident Leonardo Fernandez, agrees.
He just found out his wife’s’ tax refund was stolen after her tax return was rejected by the IRS. He says somebody else used her name and ID to file a phony return.
“It’s terrible, they rejected because they find out somebody else fill it out, the Income Tax paper with her name,” Fernandez said.
To keep the problem from getting even worse in the future, a series of new proposals were just filed by Senate Democrats including Bill Nelson.
Under the plan, the IRS would be required to process legitimate refunds to victims within 90 days.
It expands the use of special personal security numbers for taxpayers, and allows us to opt-out of electronic, computerized-filing.
The use of credit cards for direct refund deposits would be restricted along with multiple refunds into the same bank accounts.
A similar bill was also recently filed in the U-S House of Representatives.
The IRS estimates losses could exceed $21 billion dollars over just the next 5 years with Florida expected to remain the top spot in the nation for tax refund scams.
Bill sponsors hope these latest proposals can be passed quickly and signed into law.
But they’ve also got the budget, immigration reform and gun control to work on.
So there’s probably little chance Congress will be able to take action to fix the problem anytime soon.
And as this years’ April 15th deadline approaches, the latest group of taxpayers are now be learning their Tax ID’s have been stolen and their tax refunds have ended up in the hands of ID thieves.
And the long wait will begin all over again for a year or longer to get their legitimate refunds back from the IRS.
For more information on tax ID fraud, visit these government links: