FORT WORTH — Fort Worth resident Judy Banaszak got a surprise in the mail this week: Her income tax refund check for $696.55.
But there was a problem, so she called the IRS.
"They said, 'That’s your refund for your federal taxes.' And I said, 'I didn't do my taxes yet,'" Banaszak explained. “So they said, 'Oh, it sounds like you've been involved in a case of tax fraud.'"
A strange case at that.
She didn't get a government check from the Treasury Department; it came from a California bank.
But the IRS had the refund in its files.
"They just verified that the amount this check is for is exactly the amount they refunded," Banaszak said.
Whether she cashed it or deposited it, an economic crimes investigator told us thieves could gain access to her banking and personal information.
They already know at least the last four digits of her Social Security number.
The IRS gave Banaszak a long list of agencies to notify.
"They were even surprised that I received this in the mail... that I received this check,” she said. "So I think it's new to everyone."
We found similar stories posted recently on the Internet. As tax season gets underway, ID tax thieves are getting busy.
Two years ago, crooks also got the Social Security number of Banaszak's husband, sucking $5,000 out of a money market account.
In addition, thieves hacked the family's corporate Federal Express account and used it to mail out checks to other people in a similar scheme to get bank information.
The couple signed up for Lifelock identity theft protection, and they constantly monitor their accounts.
But Judy Banaszak will spend days making calls and filling out IRS tax fraud forms, along with a growing number of taxpayers.
Because of the fraud attempt, she cannot file online. The IRS told her it will take months to process her case, and that her account will be flagged for the next three years.
The lesson for Judy Banaszak? Even though she and her husband own a successful business and live in a nice gated community, she now pays cash for almost everything.
The IRS recently released new reports showing the extreme growth of ID-theft tax fraud, and the growth in the battle against it:
- IRS Criminal Investigation issues annual report (2/24/2014)
- IRS Criminal Investigationm combats identity theft refund fraud (January 2014)
- Tips for taxpayers, victims about identity theft and tax returns (January 2014)
- IRS combats identity theft and refund fraud on many fronts (January 2014)