With tax filing season heating up, an aggressive Internal Revenue Service crackdown is targeting the growing problem of criminals who use stolen identities to seek tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds.
Like so many other types of fraud, Florida again is a national leader. Florida tops the U.S. in identity theft complaints at 178 for every 100,000 residents, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The Miami area is even worse, at 324 complaints per 100,000 residents. Miller said Miami and Tampa are the epicenters of the problem in Florida.
In Southwest Florida, Temika williams and her family joined the ranks of thousands of potential tax fraud victims filling out sworn affidavits stating they've been wronged.
"We went through a tax preparer, and that's when they filed it, and they were like, 'It was rejected by the I.R.S,'" Williams said.
Williams is worried her daughter Shakeria's lease with a local public housing development could be in jeopardy.
Shakeria lives in the Horizons Apartments with her three year old daughter. Both of them were claimed in an apparent crooked return.
"I didn't give anybody permission, didn't give out that information, so I don't know how this happened, but it happened," Williams said.
Fort Myers Housing Authority Director Sherri Campanale says her agency requires tenants to provide proof of income to calculate their assistance, and that it's up to them to prove they've been victimized.
"It's the client's responsibility to provide us documentation that that is happening with a police report and a letter from the irs. if they don't provide us that documentation, then the ownest is on them to pay what we have found is filed under their social security number," she said.
Williams is working to get her daughter's case closed as quickly as possible, but according to I.R.S. Commissioner Steven Miller, tax fraud investigations take and average of 180 days.
In 2012, the IRS says its investigations and in-house filtering systems prevented $20 billion in would-be fraudulent refunds, up from $14 billion the year before. But Miller acknowledged that thieves still get away with stealing numerous tax refunds, although the IRS could not provide exact loss figures.
Miller told reporters Friday there is a backlog of 300,000 fraud claims in the U.S.
"I can say we are getting much better," Miller said. "We know that we need to do much, much more," he said.