Tax fraud peeks in South Florida, student victims speak out

Tax fraud peeks in South Florida, student victims speak out

Paul Hunt, a professor at the University’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, didn’t receive his 2012 income tax refund until September 2014.

After having sat down on May 2013 to file his 2012 income taxes, along with those of his wife, Cecilia, Hunt was alerted by a notice on his computer screen that his taxes could not be accepted.

The reason for the error message was that someone had already fraudulently filed taxes under Cecilia’s name. The notice recommended Hunt to call the Internal Revenue Service.

Hunt never received the assistance he expected.

He was told to report the incident to the local authorities.

“They made it almost seem like it was my fault. I was taken aback because [the call center attendant] basically told us it was our problem,” Hunt said.

Experiences like this happen often.

According to the Federal Trade Committee, Florida was ranked No. 1 in 2013 for per capita statewide rate of identity theft complaints, with a whopping 192,200 reported incidents.

Behind Florida were Georgia and California.

The FTC also shows that South Florida, with a rate almost four times the national average, has the highest complaint rate for identity theft of all metropolitan areas in the United States.

Now students should be extra cautious when it comes to filing.

According to the IRS, college students have lately been victims of tax identity fraud because they’re easy to target, with victims in cities like Miami and Atlanta. Those who are tricked into giving out certain information to false websites or to in-person scammers can be easily ripped off.

Daniella Moreno, a junior at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, has a relative who was a victim of tax fraud.

When it came time to apply for financial aid, Moreno’s sister, Rebecca, a freshman attending the University of Central Florida, says she clicked the first FAFSA link she saw on Google and began filling out her information.

It wasn’t until Rebecca reached the end that she realized it was the wrong site.

“We didn’t think much of it,” said Moreno. “My sister never submitted it fully but did save the information to the website. It wasn’t until we started receiving checks in the mail for large amounts that my mom realized someone had filed taxes under her name.”

Moreno said her family immediately reported it.

“Whoever did it wasn’t smart enough to change the address,” Moreno said. “But it still could’ve ended in some serious penalties if she didn’t report it.”

The IRS faces certain problems that make it easy for criminals to commit fraud.

For starters, the computer technology that the IRS uses is antiquated. And, while almost everything is done electronically, the IRS says it does not have enough resources—both in terms of technology and personnel—to carry out proper inspections to prevent fraud, according to an article in the Miami Herald.

Upgrading this technology will require money, which has not been easy to maintain a hold of.

According to the Miami Herald, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen informed the Finance Committee of the U.S. Senate that the IRS has experienced budget cuts of around $1.2 billion during the past five years.

Said cuts make it difficult to upgrade the outdated technology the IRS is using.

In order for it to be up to par with technology, the agency would need money from the legislative branch.

There are, however, some ways to prevent tax fraud.

Among these are to file as early as possible, be cautious of what is disposed of in the trash, be sure to secure all personal information and never give out such information to anyone or any entity of whose authenticity one is unsure.

If you are a victim of tax fraud, be sure to report it to local police first. After you have done this, contact the IRS at their website.

“As a taxpayer and someone who teaches public policy and administration, I’m pretty upset with the way [the IRS] handled it,” Hunt said. “I did absolutely nothing wrong…and they need to figure out how to handle these situations.”

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