The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice teamed up for a coast-to-coast crackdown on identity thieves this week.
The coast-to-coast law enforcement onslaught arrested 105 people in 23 states and included indictments, arrests and the execution of search warrants involving the potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds, the IRS stated. In all, 939 criminal charges are included in the 69 indictments and information related to identity theft.
The IRS said auditors also conducted compliance visits to money service businesses in nine locations across the country in the past week. The approximately 150 visits occurred to help ensure these check-cashing facilities aren't facilitating refund fraud and identity theft, the IRS stated.
The IRS also is taking a number of additional steps this tax season to prevent identity theft and detect refund fraud before it occurs. These efforts include designing new identity theft screening filters that will improve the IRS's ability to spot false returns before they are processed and before a refund is issued, as well as expanded efforts to place identity theft indicators on taxpayer accounts to track and manage identity theft incidents, the agency stated.
The IRS earlier this month created a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. The information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit and tips to protect against phishing schemes that can lead to identity theft.
The IRS is instrumental in fighting identity theft. A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office stated that in 2010, the IRS identified more than 245,000 identity theft incidents that affected the tax system. The hundreds of thousands of taxpayers with tax problems caused by identity theft represent a small percentage of the expected 140 million individual returns filed, but for those affected, the problems can be quite serious.
"The IRS provides taxpayers with targeted information to increase their awareness of identity theft, tips and suggestions for safeguarding taxpayers' personal information, and information to help them better understand tax administration issues related to identity theft," the GAO states.