Bogus tax refunds continue to pour into the Tampa Bay area despite IRS efforts to stem the tide

Inspector intercepts thousands of bad returns

TAMPA - The IRS says it is aggressively fighting tax return fraud, but we found millions of dollars in fraudulent refunds in the mail in just the last few weeks.

The Postal Inspector's Office in Tampa estimates it intercepted around 3,000 fraudulent returns in just a two-week period in January.

"We estimate the average fraudulent return is around $5,000," said Postal Inspector Alexia Papageorge. Investigators say there is a debit card loaded with a bad refund in every one of a large pile of envelopes which equals millions of dollars of stolen money pouring into the Tampa Bay area alone.

The stolen returns are all made out to addresses where the addressee does not actually live. Addresses like the one Cornelia Washington lives.  "We received a check for someone named Courtney, but there is no one named Courtney at our residence," said Washington.

Her mail carrier failed to catch the $4,500 IRS check she found in her mailbox in someone else's name.  When I asked the IRS what they were doing on the front end to put a stop to tax return fraud, a spokesperson referred me to their website which states, "This is not something the IRS takes lightly, and we've dramatically stepped up efforts to stop refund fraud. ... our goal is to detect these attempts at refund fraud before they occur..."

But the agency refused to comment on the thousands of bogus returns the Postal Inspector's office captured.

Many of the envelopes represent innocent taxpayers whose identities were stolen to commit the crime.  Victims who find themselves waiting for months, and in some cases almost a year, for their legitimate refund.

The IRS says it has dedicated all resources in its criminal investigation division to fight this type of identity theft and dozens of arrests have been made in Florida and around the nation in recent months.

If you or someone you know is dealing with identity theft or a stolen tax return, you can find a step-by-step guide online at Www.irs.gov/identitytheft.

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