LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Identity theft doesn't just affect its victim. Every year, regular taxpayers are also stuck paying the price for people stealing identities to file fraudulent tax returns. Two families from different parts of Southwest Florida tell WINK News the same story.
Melanie Loh is mom to two kids with one on the way. She bought the computer software, TurboTax, to help her with her taxes this year. But when she went to file, she got a rude awakening.
"It said that my social number was already used and that I can't use it twice," she says. "I thought I made an error, so we went and redid it and it still showed the same the following day. Then I called the IRS to see what was going on and the IRS told me that they would have to investigate."
It was the same scenario for Vicki Scott's family.
She said "You work all your life for that money and then turn around and someone takes it all from you it's very overwhelming."
This time, the identity theft was caught by a certified public accountant.
"We went and he discovered that someone had filed our taxes with our social security numbers and pretty close address to ours, they just added one extra numeral to it," said Vicki.
Their accountant, Wally Cordell, has been a CPA for 23 years and says the Scott's case was his first case of identity theft.
"My heart dropped because I knew exactly the tough situation that these people were put in," he said.
Cordell says it's not just the Scotts who are out of money.
"It's the general public that pays for these things. By them having their identity theft stolen, we've got the police department, IRS agents, we have a whole lot of government resources placed on an activity that really shouldn't have taken place in the first place."
But the identity theft is having a direct and immediate impact on Melanie Loh's family. Melanie tells WINK, "I was expecting money to come back and I have children and we had plans to spend the money on them."
And both Melanie Loh and the Scott Family want to see the thieves caught.
"They should be punished," says Melanie.
According to Vicki, "It's a terrible thing to happen to somebody and you wouldn't wish that on anyone. That's basically why we agreed to speak with you, to get it out in the public to say 'hey this happening, put your radar up and be aware of what's going on around you.' "
There are ways for these victims to straighten things out with the IRS, but it is a something of a hassle.
A couple of things you can do to keep this from happening to you: First, file as early as possible. If you file before thieves get a chance, they won't be able to rip you off. Second, make sure to check your credit report yearly and look for unusual activity. You can check your credit report for free once every year from all three credit unions. The website is: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp
But be careful. Your credit report may not always indicate that something is wrong. Melanie Loh tells WINK that she checked her credit report last year, and once again right after she learned about the identity theft. Both times her credit report looked normal.