James Ajami* knew his 2009 tax refund would take longer than usual to process. The Illinois retiree and his wife had bought a new home, making them eligible for a $6,500 federal tax credit but requiring more paperwork.
They had no idea that identity theft would drag out the process for a full year—a period marked with frustration.
They filed their tax return in March 2010. One month later, an identity thief submitted a bogus 1040 form to the IRS. On the form were James Ajami’s name and Social Security number, a fake address and the crook’s bank account and routing numbers. The couple’s $2,700 refund was issued electronically to that bank, then the funds were withdrawn. It wasn’t until June that the Ajamis discovered what had happened.
“The IRS considered the later return—with all the fake information—the real return,” Ajami said.
Ajami helped himself by taking several steps. He filed a police report, notified the three major credit bureaus and filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. He mailed identifying documents to the IRS to prove that he was who he said he was. In September, he made a battery of follow-up phone calls to the IRS. The next month he visited a local IRS walk-in center, and the agency referred his case to their in-house Identity Protection Specialized Unit.
“He did everything right, from filing complaints and police reports to setting up a fraud alert,” said Vicki Volkert, a CyberScout fraud specialist who worked on his case.
Ajami realized he could receive CyberScout’s services through his auto insurance. That’s how Volkert became involved:
- She conducted a complete interview to establish his time line and validate his paperwork.
- She enrolled him in credit and fraud monitoring services for one year to watch for additional fraud.
- She also organized a joint call with Ajami to the IRS identity theft unit to confirm that his claim was under investigation.
Finally, Volkert assured Ajami that IRS identity theft investigations normally take at least six months, and that, despite the headache, most victims end up with their rightful checks.
“That was a big help right there, because I figured the money was lost for good,” Ajami said. “I wish I could have gotten a hold of her earlier.”
Sure enough, Ajami got his check about six months after he made his calls to the IRS.
After his vexing experience, Ajami has decided there’s only one way to truly avoid tax-related identity theft: “Make sure you owe money to the IRS.”* Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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