One sure way of not being a victim of Tampa Bay's epidemic in stolen tax returns

Hidden crime wave could take your tax refund

TAMPA BAY - If you're expecting a tax refund this year, congratulations. But remember we live in one of the nation's worst places for identity theft and tax refund fraud.

In 2011, a Tampa Police task force was one of the first in the nation to target the rampant tax refund theft that was draining millions from hardworking taxpayers from all walks of life.  An estimated $120 million dollars was stolen in the last couple of years in the Bay Area.

Police pulling over people for other crimes found lists of names and   social security number and lots of cash.

Tampa's police chief and the local head of the Secret Service felt the problem was out of control, with the IRS mailing out billions of dollars refunds via debit cards to the wrong recipients.

"Now what they're doing is just using what's perceived as a broken system to make money without having to put a gun up against somebody's head" says Bert Seither of Corporate Tax Network of Clearwater.

Seither specializes in helping people who've had their tax refunds hijacked through fraud. He says the best defense against having your tax refund stolen is to file your taxes as soon as possible after you get your W-2's and other forms.

"So if you can get your tax return filed prior to the criminal getting filed, their return is going to get rejected and you win" said Seither.     

As the iTeam's Jackie Callaway reported last year, the postal service is having some success intercepting suspicious returns. But if your social security number gets into the wrong hands, you could still be a victim.

So if you don't want your social security number to end up as evidence in a police case, don't be so quick to give it out when filling out forms.

"If it asks for a social security number, leave it blank until they tell you it's an absolute requirement" said Seither.

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