Tax Day is particularly taxing when someone has stolen your identity. We should know.

I came home from work one February day in 2015 to find my husband, Rick, shaken. Really shaken.

While checking our tax refund status he saw something on the IRS web page that made no sense and sent him to the local IRS office.

There, he learned that we were victims of identity theft. Someone claimed a tax refund using our names, our dates of birth and our Social Security numbers. That claim was paid while our tax filing with the appropriate W2s was in limbo.

What followed was months of worry, freezing this and that account, and lots of calls to multiple government offices to try to straighten things out.

Rick had filed the taxes in late January 2015.

Two or three weeks later, he checked the IRS web page and clicked on “Where’s my refund?’”

The IRS had received our claim.

“I know it was ours because it had the correct refund amount of $900 something,” Rick said.

Another week or two later, on that fateful February day, he checked the status again. This time it said, “You must have entered your information incorrectly. We don’t have a record of it.”

Rick went to the IRS office with our documents.

The IRS person gave him a somber look and called over his colleague.

“They looked at it and had a startled, worried look on their faces,” Rick said. “That’s when they gave me the news that somebody had already filed using our tax identify, our Social Security numbers.”

Apparently the fake claim kicked our claim out of the system.

The IRS gave Rick a list of things he had to do:

* Report an ID theft to the Federal Trade Commission.

* File a report with the local police.

* File an ID theft affidavit, Form 14039, with the IRS.

* Contact the three major credit card bureaus to freeze our credit.

* Contact credit card companies to close existing accounts and open new ones.

* Watch our checking account, savings accounts and credit card statements like a hawk.

Rick did all the above, then contacted U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office. “They were very helpful,” Rick said. “One thing I was stunned to learn: In my naivete I assumed that the IRS did not give a refund without checking your supporting documents, 1099s and W2s, against the ones they’ve received from places of employment.

“But the IRS person looked at me with disbelief that I thought that was the case. She said, ‘We don’t even receive those until June.’ Which to me is stunning that refunds could be given without documents to double check against what the tax filers are filing with.”

Turns out that in a 2014 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office recommended IRS not pay claims until W2s from employers were verified, but the IRS was not set up to do it. The GAO says the IRS pays billions of dollars in false tax payments every year. 

We never found out who stole our identities or how much they claimed in our names. “But I have a hunch it was more than our refund of $900,” Rick said.

Meanwhile, he fretted about what other information about us had been stolen and would be used against us. It turns out our state tax refund was fine. He found no other fraud with other accounts.

About Rick: He’s 64, a retired financial analyst for the U.S. Postal Service. This guy thrives on complicated finance stuff that makes me want to run to the kitchen and bake.

When Rick found out about the identify theft, “the first thing I wondered was how did they get our Social Security numbers and information?” He remembered there had been an Anthem Blue Cross breach the previous fall. “That’s probably it,” he said.

Lewiston Deputy Police Chief Brian O’Malley said his department received eight reports of IRS ID theft in 2015 similar to ours, with several also suspecting that crooks got their personal information from the Anthem breach.

In our case, “someone at IRS told me someone kept trying to put the claim through electronically several times before they were successful,” Rick said. “You’d think that would have raised red flags.”

The IRS told us we had to refile our taxes with a 14039 form and that it would be six to eight months before we’d get our refund. “The IRS has so many fraudulent tax returns, it’s time-consuming for them to go through them,” Rick said.

A recent IRS statement said it is continuing to increase identity theft filters to identify potentially fraudulent returns. In 2015, the IRS rejected or suspended 4.8 million suspicious returns and stopped 1.4 million confirmed identity theft returns that totaled $8.7 billion.

Like other IRS identity theft victims, we now have a pin number to use when filing our taxes — an extra precaution the IRS has taken. No claim can be made using our identify without that pin.

Experts recommend consumers file their taxes early and be careful with their personal information.

“Your information is out there,” Rick said. “The simple solution is the IRS should not give out refunds unless they have supporting documents — the 1099s and W2s — to verify it.

“If that means we have to wait a little longer for our refunds, so be it. Because it’s costing taxpayers billions of dollars, aggravation and months’ worth of frustration.”


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