Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) today introduced legislation to help stop the growing problem of tax return identity theft. The Stopping Tax Offenders and Prosecuting Identity Theft Act (H.R. 744) increases penalties for tax return identity thieves to help deter this type of crime and protect victims.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, more than 938,664 tax returns and $6.5 billion were associated with fraudulent tax refunds involving identity theft in 2011. Most tax identity theft victims don't even realize what has happened until they file their taxes, only to learn from the IRS that someone else has already filed and claimed their hard earned tax return.
Rep. Smith: "Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Studies estimate that more than 10 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. Texans are especially vulnerable to these ID theft schemes. The Lone Star State ranks fifth in the nation for identity theft complaints.
"Unfortunately, tax season has become high season for ID theft schemes. Each year, millions of hard-working taxpayers expect to receive a federal refund. Rather than collecting their hard-earned cash, many will discover that they have become victims of tax refund identity theft. This bill increases penalties for tax return ID theft to help deter these crimes and better protect law-abiding, taxpaying Americans."
Rep. Wasserman Schultz: "We have seen countless news stories about how tax refund identity theft is on the rise across the country, particularly in my district in South Florida. Even though the IRS has tripled the number of investigations and doubled the number of staff working on cases in the last year, the number of thieves is also on the rise. That's why I'm holding several town halls in my district over the next two months to help educate constituents on how they can avoid becoming a victim. We also must discourage would-be thieves from perpetuating this crime, which is why Congressman Smith and I have introduced legislation that protects Americans and their tax dollars."
H.R. 744 expands the definition of a victim of identity theft to include businesses and charitable organizations, as a growing concern among these groups is having their identities stolen and used in phishing schemes to extract the sensitive information from unsuspecting taxpayers used in identity thefts.