IRS investigators in the Tampa Bay area aim to defeat the tax refund fraud crime that uses stolen identities to file fake tax returns within six to nine months, according to an IRS criminal investigations agent.
"I think it's an attainable goal," said Ismael Nevarez, Jr., IRS assistant special agent in charge of the Tampa field office. "It's our benchmark."
It's the first time a local timetable for eradicating the crime has been voiced publicly. Meeting that goal would likely mean the success of not only criminal investigations, but filters to detect fake returns before they trigger a refund.
The tax refund fraud has exploded in the Bay area in recent years, with criminals succeeding in getting millions in tax refund money by filing returns with fake info under other people's names. The IRS has said it has implemented new filters to catch fraud, but law enforcement and legislators have questioned their effectiveness in the past.
Nevarez said the IRS has more than triple the amount of filters this year and also has a "much better handle" on the crime than in years past.
This filing season, which begins Jan. 30, the IRS also plans to deputize local law enforcement in the Tampa area and has brought in agents from neighboring cities, Nevarez said.
"If you're considering getting involved in id theft, you should think twice," he said.
Nevarez also said even smaller players will be targeted in an effort to deter the crime.
"You can file one return for $5,000, you can steal one patient's information, one client's information, and sell it, we will prosecute you," he said. "We will recommend you be prosecuted. There is zero threshold."