LEE COUNTY, Fla. - We are just days away from the deadline to file your tax returns. But, what happens if someone steals your identity, files it for you and gets away with your tax refund?
ID theft and tax refund fraud happens more in Florida than anywhere else. And once their information is compromised, some victims feel victimized again by the IRS. Senator Bill Nelson not only wants to help victims get back to normal sooner, he wants tougher criminal penalties.
There was nothing Galen Ballard of Cape Coral could have done to protect his identity. "The crooks get away with it and the honest people get the shaft," Ballard said.
In spring of 2011, he and his wife's South Carolina Hospital informed them that a laptop holding social security and other personal information had been stolen. By then, it was too late. "I got ripped off," Ballard said. "Someone filed an income tax return in our name. Somebody out there has my entire life. My entire life is floating in cyberspace somewhere."
It took Ballard an entire year to get his tax refund. But, time and time again, he's forced to prove his identity. "Continually victimized," Ballard. "It never ends."
Senator Bill Nelson is working to alleviate that pain. Florida is home to 9 out of the 10 cities in the nation hardest hit by identity theft. Naples-Marco Island is 2nd and Cape Coral-Fort Myers is 4th.
His new legislation will:
-direct the IRS Secretary to establish a plan of action for resolving and closing identity theft cases within 90 days.
-direct the Secretary to ensure that an identity theft victim has a single point of contact at the IRS that tracks the case from start to finish.
-impose new civil and criminal penalties selling, purchasing, or publicly displaying an individual's SSN without informed consent.
-increase the maximum penalty for tax-related identity theft from 3 years imprisonment and a $100,000 fine to 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
It's a bill that Ballard hopes lawmakers on both sides support.
"This isn't about Republican or Democrat," Ballard said. "This is about citizens having at least the ability to protect themselves and at least have some system set up for those people that compromise that protection to pay some penalty."
Next week, when Congress returns to Washington, Nelson will file the improved version of the bill. He said, "We cannot allow victims of ID theft and tax fraud to be victimized again by a system encumbered by red tape."