For the last few years, anywhere from a dozen to more than 50 Naperville residents have filed a complaint with the Naperville Police Department about their identity being used to obtain a refund through a fraudulent tax return, police Cmdr. Lou Cammiso said.
The high water mark was 53 reported in 2016. The number has decreased since then, Cammiso said, but there have already been some reported this year.
The cases are similar in nature. A thief obtains someone’s personal information, including Social Security number, and uses it to file a tax return. The victim doesn’t know it’s happened until they file their own return and learn someone’s already beaten them to the punch. Sometimes, fake W2 forms are created, Cammiso said.
It’s part of the reason the police department is holding programs on identity theft. The first is at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St., and the second at 1 p.m. Feb. 21 at the 95th Street Library, 3015 Cedar Glade Road. Officials will talk about various types of identity theft, including tax return fraud, and how to prevent them from occurring.
Joanna Thorne, a manager at the accounting firm Lee Mandel and Associates in Naperville, said tax return fraud is different from other kinds of identity theft, where a credit card number or bank account information is stolen.
“This is hackers and people who file returns with the (stolen) Social Security numbers but don’t necessarily have all the other information,” Thornes said. “They’re scamming the IRS, not necessarily the taxpayer.”
Once the IRS investigates and comes up with a finding that fraud has been committed, the victim’s tax returns are accepted and, if appropriate, a second refund check issued, she said. The process to undo the fraudulent tax filing, which requires filing an affidavit with the IRS, refiling the return and closing the case, takes about six to nine months, she said.
Mandel and Associates has taken steps to ensure their clients’ information is secure, she said. Their computers require a two-step verification to log in and client information is stored via a protected online portal, she said. The firm has even increased its use of their fax machines as it is safer to send sensitive information that way than through email.
“We would tell people, if possible, to file as soon as possible before a fraudulent tax return can be filed,” she said. “That’s all you can do because you wont know your identification information has been stolen until the second (tax return) is trying to be processed and rejected.”
Because of such precautions, the number of people being victimized is dropping. According to a statement issued by the IRS, the number of taxpayers reporting a fraudulent return decreased by 32 percent — from 883,000 in 2016 to 597,000 in 2017.
A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the IRS estimates individuals attempted at least $14.5 billion in tax refund fraud during the 2015 tax year.
“Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, and constant vigilance is one of the best ways to protect yourself,” Deputy Police Chief Jason Arres said in a news release on the police department programs. “Our detectives and crime prevention specialists are extremely knowledgeable on how thieves get their hands on people’s private information, and we’re eager to get this message out to residents so they can protect themselves.”