An accountant rarely rings at 8 a.m. with good news. Sure enough, when Paige Brown* took the call, she found out the IRS had rejected her tax return because someone already had filed in her name and pocketed the refund. To make matters worse, the IRS wanted Brown to pay back the money.
“I started frantically calling my credit card companies and telling everyone that my identity had been stolen,” said Brown, a retired English teacher from New England.
Tax-related identity theft is a growing problem. In 2012 alone, the IRS was hit with more than 600,000 false claims, according to a recent study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The high incidence of fraud is snarling the system. It takes dozens of phone calls and a wait time of six months to more than a year for cases like Brown’s to be resolved.
Fortunately, Brown’s auto insurance provider covered her for identity management services through CyberScout. Fraud Investigator Maria Valenzuela was dedicated to her case until its full resolution.
“Maria was very reassuring,” Brown said. “In a calm, authoritative and professional manner she outlined the steps I needed to take immediately.”
The first step: Valenzuela coached Brown on how to work with the three major credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax—to lock down her credit accounts and prevent the thieves from doing further damage.
But the IRS continued to hold Brown accountable for the money the agency had paid out to the identity thieves. She received letters from the IRS threatening to garnish her Social Security benefits to cover the loss.
“One of my biggest challenges was coordinating my efforts with the IRS,” Brown said. “That got straightened out thanks to Maria.”
Valenzuela moved quickly to protect Brown’s credit and resolve the fraud by:
• Calling the IRS to confirm a fraudulent refund had been submitted and paid out.
• Completing the IRS’s fraud affidavit.
• Adding a three-year tax marker to her tax file, which flags refunds for verification.
• Placing a 90-day alert with the credit bureaus and ChexSystems.
• Adding credit freezes to Brown’s credit files.
• Enrolling Brown in the monitoring of her credit reports.
• Calling the IRS every 30 days until the investigation was closed.
Brown credits CyberScout with giving her peace of mind during a difficult time. Valenzuela’s support helped to reduce her anxiety about the situation as well as to resolve the case with minimal stress.
“CyberScout was very good at making me feel secure that I was doing the right thing and that eventually things would be settled,” Brown said. “When I called Maria, she always got back to me. She gave me accurate information on the steps that had to be taken right away.”
In April, the IRS closed its investigation and acknowledged that the refund issued was fraudulent and stopped all garnishment threats.
One year later, Brown is taking steps to make sure her tax season is less turbulent. She’s set up a PIN on her accounts to help ensure the IRS flags any suspicious returns. And she knows where to turn if her identity is ever stolen again.
“If it happens to me again, I would go back to CyberScout in a heartbeat.”
* Name has been changed to protect the victim's identity.
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