TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Laura Hankins knew something was wrong when she filed her daughter's tax return and it was rejected hours later: An identity thief already had sent in a return using the 19-year-old's personal information.
"This is the first time in her life she has ever filed income taxes, after earning all of $1,800 stocking products on grocery store shelves," Hankins said. "I did her taxes for her online, but immediately she got the rejection."
Thieves have claimed billions of dollars in bogus tax refunds from the IRS by swiping the Social Security numbers and identities of schoolchildren in Florida, prisoners in Pennsylvania, teachers in Washington state and soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hackers and employees with access to thousands of names stored in company databases have tapped into reams of personal information, allowing them to submit hundreds of fraudulent returns by computer and receive refunds within days. Five people in Cincinnati were sentenced to prison late last year for using the names of employees at nursing homes and hospitals to file tax returns.
It all adds up to a lot of frustration for legitimate taxpayers who face more paperwork and months of waiting for their tax refunds.
Hankins was told her daughter Claire, a college student from West Milwaukee, Wis., would get her refund in about six months. But Hankins first had to spend about 20 hours filling out forms, gathering information and photocopying documents because she couldn't file electronically after the tax identity theft was discovered in February.
"Some kids get to go to Florida for spring break, but she got to go to the West Milwaukee police station to file a theft report," said Hankins, who added that her daughter is worried about what will happen next now that her personal information is out there.