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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The Equifax hack and others like it exposed the personal information of millions of Americans.

Criminals can use stolen social security numbers to file for a tax refund in your name but Ryan Kath found out the IRS can be slow in letting people know their identity’s been stolen.

At 85 years old, Julianne O’Connor speaks for all of us when a letter from the IRS shows up in the mail.

“I just go,” said O’Connor while throwing up her hands in the air when talking about letters she received.

Luckily, she had help from her daughter, Julianne McLaughlin, to cut through the red tape.

The letters said the IRS needed to verify the identity of Julianne and her 88-year-old husband who suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s and lives in a memory care facility several miles away.

“And I was like, ‘Why does their identity need to be verified? They’ve been filing taxes for 60 to 70 years,” said McLaughlin.

The family figured it was some kind of random audit so they sent in the required paperwork but it wasn’t good enough. They tried again and it still was not fixed.

Despite repeated calls to the IRS hotline, they could never get through.

They finally went to their local IRS office. That’s when they learned seven months after first getting the letter that someone had stolen the elderly couple’s social security numbers and filed a tax return in their name.

“I was really upset. Just remember my heart pounding and thinking, who else out there has this information,” said McLaughlin.

Bentley Professor Steve Weisman, who’s written several books on the topic, says the IRS is notoriously slow to inform taxpayers they’re at risk.

“It’s such a bureaucratic nightmare that they don’t let you know as soon as possible: you’re a victim. we need to fight this,” said Weisman.

We discovered government reports that show during the busy filing season, it can take an average of 9 months to resolve these issues.

Julianne finally received her refund check in November.

“You just plod along when you’re dealing with a big bureaucracy. Just keep plodding along,” said O’Connor.

Her family is still worried about the potential damage done during the long IRS delay.

The IRS says it is working to resolve these cases faster.

Experts say when tax filing season comes around do your taxes right away. That will increase your chances of beating identity thieves to the punch.

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