The Tampa tax fraud epidemic

Tampa Bay Online reports on a local story that just went national, as a city police detective heads to the U.S. Senate to testify about tax fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the Tampa Bay area alone:

One police officer who took a CNN news crew along as he pulled over suspects with evidence of tax fraud in their cars found out the day after the interview that he had become a victim.

Officer Edwin Perez said he found nearly $9,000 in cash during the stop, along with an iPad that had “a lot of history on there” showing tax fraud.

The next day, he said, he heard from his accountant that the IRS had blocked his tax return because someone else had already filed for a refund using his wife’s name, date of birth and Social Security number. Perez later learned he may have to wait as long as a year before he sees a penny of the $7,000 refund he is due.

Perez was one of at least four Tampa police officers whose tax returns have been blocked this tax filing season. He said a fellow officer whose return was blocked last year is still waiting for his refund.

Based on what he’s seeing in the streets, Perez said, the fraud is “ten times as bad this year” as it was last year.

How bad is it?  This bad:

“Out in the street, everybody is doing it,” said Chief Jane Castor. “We’re hearing stories about high school kids doing this. It’s just incredible.”

Perez said he’s found a 16-year-old on his way to school with a list of names, dates of birth and other identifying information for use in tax fraud and a 76-year-old man with a laptop computer case stuffed with debit cards pre-loaded with money suspected to have been obtained through tax fraud.

Castor went on to describe the current situation as “the most insanely massive violation of the law that I’ve seen.”  She doesn’t think the local police have the manpower to handle the tax-fraud crime wave.

The crooks are buying personal information from insiders at medical offices, assisted living facilities, and other locations where such data is routinely kept.  Perez says the street name for tax return fraud is “TurboTax.”  That’s the name of popular tax preparation software.  Perhaps coincidentally, it is also a nickname commonly given to our tax-cheating Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner.

The IRS “seems to understand the problem,” and that’s the really scary part of the story:

Castor said the IRS seems to understand the problem and says it’s putting additional filters in place to block fraudulent refund checks from being sent. But Castor reiterated that the existing filters don’t seem to be working.

For example, the IRS says it screens for multiple refund checks being sent to the same address. But in one case, Castor said, police documented more than 200 refunds being sent to a single address.

“They have made some changes, but the insurmountable hurdle still is in place,” Castor said. “They still cannot share information with law enforcement. That needs to be fixed. … But I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the real problem here. It starts at the filing. It has got to be fixed.”

That’s rather amazing, isn’t it?  The Internal Revenue Service thinks it needs additional screens and filters to avoid sending 200 refund checks to the same address?  The IRS currently has an operating budget of $13.3 billion, but it can’t stop an old man with a laptop from amassing a dragon’s hoard of fraudulent refund debit cards?  Tax fraud, at least in the Tampa area, has become so widespread that it’s got a street nickname?

Oh, well.  At least we haven’t given this government anything really important to do, such as “invest” hundreds of billions of dollars, or manage our health care.