Good news for consumers victimized by identity theft: Uncle Sam is expanding a program designed to help law enforcement officers catch criminals who steal tax data nationwide to all 50 states.
The Internal Revenue Service last week announced the program, which aims to make it easier for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cases of identity theft, a crime the agency says rises during the annual tax season.
The IRS says it has received more than 1,560 waiver requests since the Law Enforcement Assistance Program began last year from more than 100 state and local law enforcement agencies in the nine states participating in the pilot. The expansion covers all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and became effective last Friday, March 29.
“The results of the pilot illustrate that this works as an innovative tool for law enforcement to help pursue tough identity theft situations,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller in a statement. “This program is an effective way for law enforcement to work with the IRS to pursue identity thieves and protect taxpayers. Expanding the program and making it permanent on a nationwide basis makes sense for victims as well as law enforcement and tax administration.”
Since the start of 2013, the IRS has worked with victims to resolve and close more than 200,000 cases. That is in addition to the expanded Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) pilot, an initiative to protect victims with previously confirmed cases of identity theft by creating an additional layer of security on these accounts.
The IRS has issued more than 770,000 IP PINs to identity theft victims since the start of this tax filing season.
Since October, there have been more than 670 criminal identity theft investigations opened. The criminals being sentenced are spending an average of four years in custody with sentences as long as 20 years.
“The IRS continues to aggressively work identity theft issues on multiple fronts, focusing on helping victims of this terrible crime and pursuing the perpetrators across the nation,” Miller said. “The pilot expansion will help these efforts.”
After a successful pilot that started in Florida last April, the IRS expanded the program to eight additional states in October 2012: Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. These nine states represent a large percentage of the overall identity theft refund fraud seen by the IRS.
Like the pilot program, state and local law enforcement officials with evidence of identity theft involving fraudulently filed federal tax returns will receive permission from the identity theft victim by having them complete a special IRS disclosure form so the IRS can provide law enforcement with the fraudulently filed tax return. The IRS will assist law enforcement in locating taxpayers and soliciting their consent.
Federal law imposes restrictions on sharing of taxpayer information, including information that can be shared with state and local law enforcement. The new IRS program allows taxpayers the option to permit information to be shared with state and local law enforcement specifically to assist law enforcement officials with their efforts in pursuing identity thieves.
Law enforcement interested in working with the IRS should contact their local IRS Criminal Investigation field office.
This January, the IRS also conducted a coordinated and highly successful identity theft enforcement sweep. The coast-to-coast effort against identity theft suspects led to 734 enforcement actions in January, including 298 indictments, complaints and arrests. The effort comes on top of a growing identity theft effort that led to 2,400 other enforcement actions against identity thieves during fiscal year 2012.
“The IRS and its law enforcement partners at the federal, state and local level are going after the perpetrators of these crimes, and people are going to jail for a long time as a result,” Miller said.
The IRS has a comprehensive and aggressive identity theft strategy employing a three-pronged effort focusing on fraud prevention, early detection and victim assistance. Last year, the IRS prevented the issuance of more than $20 billion in fraudulent refunds compared to $14 billion the year before. IRS efforts stopped 5 million suspicious returns in 2012 up, from 3 million suspicious returns stopped in 2011.