Like thousands of Americans, when Ann Wiseman of Powell filed her tax return, she got an unwelcome surprise. A crook beat her to it.
"First, you get mad. It's like, why me?" she said.
The scammer stole her identity through her social security number, filed a fake return and tried to collect a refund. But the IRS was not far behind.
"The returns tend to be of a pattern," said U.S. Attorney Daniel Brown.
He said that the crooks often file many fake returns, then have refunds sent to several bank accounts.
But he said agents are trained to look for patterns, and red-flag questionable returns.
He's prosecuting three cases under a new law. It's called SIRF, Stolen Identity Refund Fraud. And he says Congress has given him a hammer when he convicts these crooks.
"The stolen identity itself is an extra two years in prison. Automatic.”
That means if someone sends in 20 fake returns, they'll face 40 years in prison ... in addition to time for theft.
Brown says many of these crooks have no criminal records, and learn how to cheat people like Ann Wiseman by attending tax preparation seminars.
"Or work for one of the legitimate tax preparation organizations that we see everywhere," Brown explained.
He said the federal government is now committed to convicting the bad guys, and discouraging others from trying this.
"It can pile up a lot of years," Brown said.
"If I was a crook, I wouldn't choose the IRS," Ann Wiseman said. "But you know, each his own."
Brown says the best way to protect yourself is to not to share your social security number, and to use multiple passwords to protect information on your computer.
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