3OYS: $3.5B in tax refunds given to ID thieves

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- The Internal Revenue Service says that after $3.5 billion in fraudulent tax refunds was handed out last year, it has taken measures to catch criminal activity this tax season.

Lisa Sukenic, a Phoenix-based special agent with the IRS, says the agency has seen a dramatic increase in people filing false returns by stealing social security numbers and other information from legitimate citizens.

"We basically initiated nearly 1,500 criminal investigations that concern identity theft refund fraud," she said.

The IRS has put more filters in place in hopes of detecting identity theft before false refunds are paid out, Sukenic said.

"IRS takes identity theft very seriously and recognizes that identity theft victimizes the honest American taxpayer," she said. "The consequences can be devastating."

Nearly 70 million people might have had their personal information stolen for tax fraud purposes.

In 2012, $5 billion in fraudulent tax refunds was distributed, according to the IRS.

Sukenic says methods for stealing information have become diverse and sophisticated. However, some thieves might still be using more traditional tactics such as phone calls.

Bill Brunson with the IRS says some crooks pose as IRS agents in phone calls to citizens and request personal financial information.

"You want to protect your tax information," he said. "If you receive that phone call and you're not sure, don't provide it. The Internal Revenue Service isn't going to ask you over the phone for personal financial information."

The IRS has a warning for the thieves, too.

"If you are going to do the crime, be prepared to do the time," Sukenic said.

For additional information visit www.irs.gov.