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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – If you live in South Florida, chances are you or someone you know has been a victim of identity theft. Florida leads the nation in tax identity theft, where the crooks steal your tax refund. CBS4’s David Sutta has details of a new free program that will keep your identity safe.
Having your identity stolen is usually pretty frustrating for the victim. Someone steals your identity, files your tax return, and nabs your refund.
Olga Acebo was a victim of it in 2011.
“It was a little over $2,000,” She waited two years before the IRS finally sent her the money. “It was horrible because I use my money to pay for school. So I didn’t have money to pay for school. I couldn’t pay for my classes,” she said.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is trying to fix response times to tax fraud cases, but last year alone, five-million Americans had their tax returns compromised—that’s nearly $30 billion in returns held up.
“I think that’s a lot of money. A lot of money that a lot of hardworking Americans could use,” Acebo said. Typically after you are a victim of tax id theft, the IRS gives you a six-digit pin number to use. You use it so they know it’s you and not the crooks cashing in again.
The official name of the pin, as per Karina Ron, director of the United Way Center for Financial Stability, is, “The identity protection personal identification number.” Most people call it IP-Pin for short.
This year, for the first time ever, the IRS decided to allow anyone living in Florida, Georgia, and Washington D.C. the opportunity to get a pin number for free. If you live in any of states, you automatically qualify for the pin. How come? Ron said, “Because Florida has the highest rate of identity theft when it comes to taxes.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida leads the nation in ID theft complaints and Miami has the most cases in the state, nearly twice that of Tampa and Orlando.
Now armed with an IP-Pin, you can keep from being the next victim. Signing up is easy online. Once you do so, you will receive a pin number every December that you will have to use to file your taxes and any paperwork. Also, you must use the pin program indefinitely. Meaning once you sign up—you can’t cancel it. Sutta asked why there is any reason why someone who lives in South Florida shouldn’t be getting a pin? Ron hesitated for a moment then said, “it could be a stumbling block for a lot of community members.” If someone loses their pin, she said, it could cause issues and definitely will delay returns. Anyone signing up should make sure they fully understand the program.
She did note that if you are prone to losing things or move a lot, the pin program may be more headache than helpful.
Acebo, who’s had a pin for the last three years, believes everyone should have one.
“The plus side is that I became informed. I found out about the pin and every year I can file my taxes and I don’t have to worry about my information is out there,” she said.
Acebo’s mom, on the other hand, wasn’t as fortunate… and this year her information was compromised. “I already called the IRS. My mom filled out the paperwork. She’s going to request a pin,” Acebo said.
The IRS’s IP-PIN program may end up becoming a nationwide thing for everyone. Congress has asked for it to expand. Right now the IRS wants to see how it goes. It certainly makes a whole lot of sense, but whether it works remains to be seen.
To learn more about the identity protection-pin program, click here.