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Government targets identity thieves pursuing tax refunds

A Social Security number is a unique identifier that, in the wrong hands, can be used to take advantage of a Clinton or Dunkirk resident's finances. Identity theft involves stealing and using someone else's personal data to obtain something of value. In some instances, identity thieves use stolen Social Security numbers to file for tax refunds.

The IRS has stepped up efforts in the last few years to recognize identity theft-related tax fraud. The agency expanded the number of fraud investigators and tax form filters and solidified more ties with financial institutions and law enforcement agencies. The IRS prevented $20 billion in fake refund claims in 2012, up $6 billion from the previous year -- in many cases, the IRS detected identity theft before victims did.

To say the federal agency takes identity theft seriously would be an understatement. The IRS tripled investigations into identity theft between 2011 and 2012. Defendants convicted as a result of these investigations were imprisoned an average of four years, while some were sentenced to terms of up to 20 years.

Victims of tax-related identity fraud are issued special tax identification numbers to prevent further refund fraud. These PINs were issued to over 770,000 taxpayers in 2013. The average IRS identity theft case is resolved in approximately 180 days.

Stolen Social Security numbers are typically submitted on fraudulent returns early in the tax season. A victim often learns about theft after the IRS notices an SSN filing duplication.

Identity theft is also a problem for filers of Maryland tax returns. According to the state comptroller's office, fraudulent state forms generally are filed electronically with requests to deposit refunds into accounts for pre-paid debit cards.

Can the IRS or other government agency wrongfully charge someone with identity theft or tax fraud? The law firm of Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. helps make sure defendants aren't accused unfairly of white collar crimes.

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