PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- What if you're expecting a refund on your taxes, only to learn someone stole your identity, filed a bogus return in your name and walked off with your refund check?
It's happening more and more, and the IRS has set up a hotline for people who are victims of it.
From IRS.gov: If you become the victim of identity theft outside of the tax system or believe you may be at risk due to a lost/stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, etc., you are encouraged to contact the IRS at the Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free at 1-800-908-4490
It happened to Vanessa Dowe of South Florida. "I filed my taxes just yesterday, and I got an alert today that my taxes have already been filed!" Dowe said.
IRS Special Agent Andrew Hromoko says someone who gets your name, address and social security number could try filing a fraudulent return.
"It's not really your refund," said Agent Hromoko. "It's a completely bogus tax return that may contain all sorts of fraudulent information."
Still, you won't get your actual refund until the matter is straightened out.
A man was arrested last month in Pittsburgh for allegedly using stolen identities in Arizona to get refunds. Adrian Lugo, 39, is accused of using the identities of 34 people who had died to file returns and collect the refunds.
But Hromoko says another scam to look out for is tax preparers who use bogus information on your return to get you an inflated refund.
Jamel Williams of Pittsburgh and Larry Snow of Seward have both pleaded guilty to false preparation of tax returns, according to the IRS.
Hromoko says if clients know of the scam, they could be charged as well, and at the very least, they will have to pay back any refund money that was gotten through illegal means.
"It's not free money," said Hromoko.
He says there are a couple of red flags to look for when selecting a tax preparer. He says preparers should always be willing to sign the form and that you should be suspicious of preparers who charge based on the amount of the return they get you.
Finally, he says to always review the return before you send it in to make sure everything makes sense.
This link gives more information about tax scams: Taxpayers Guide To Identity Theft .
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