As a new tax filing season nears , the IRS is preparing to deputize about two dozen local and state law enforcement officers to help combat tax refund fraud by criminals who use stolen identities to file fake tax returns.
The crime has exploded in the past few years, and local law enforcement have expressed frustration with challenges in stopping the crime and getting information to investigate.
By deputizing local law enforcement – including deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, officers from the Tampa Police Department and agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – the local investigators will get special access to information and wider jurisdictions.
The change will speed up investigations, said Tampa Police Sgt. Pat Kennedy.
"Obviously time is money on these cases," Kennedy said. "The longer it takes to make an arrest or get an indictment or get somebody put in prison, the more money's being stolen."
The new filing season begins Jan. 30, and authorities say they expect criminals are gearing up to start filing fake returns with stolen identities as soon as they can.
Local law enforcement agencies have formed special teams to fight the crime, with a new squad at the Tampa Police Department and a special "tax fraud room" housing detectives and representatives from the IRS and FBI at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
In Hillsborough County, Corp. Bruce Crumpler said investigators have their eye on some multimillion dollar tax fraud players taking in $200,000 to $300,000 per week, but they are also looking to go after smaller players too.
"Some people think if they keep it under a certain dollar amount, they're not going to be on the radar," he said. "Everyone's on the radar. There's not going to be a dollar amount."
But even with law enforcement efforts, solving the problem for good means also stopping fake returns from getting through IRS systems and stopping the fraudulent refunds from being issued. The IRS says it has put new filters in place to catch the returns, but it has drawn criticism by legislators and victims for not doing enough.
"I'm very concerned about the tax filing season," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. "Because I do not believe that the IRS has a good track record for stopping these fraudulent returns."
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