Government targets tax fraud in Southwest Florida
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Thieves targeting your tax return is such a big problem in Southwest Florida that a government office in Washington is moving resources to Fort Myers.
At the Fort Myers Fraud Conference Thursday FOX 4 looked into what the government is doing to crack down on the problem and how you can stay protected.
Also looking for questions at the conference, a Collier County man who is a victim of tax fraud.
"The response that you get out of the other end of the line is 'Look, sir, we don't know whether you are a crook or someone else is the crook. So we can't tell you a thing," he said.
He wanted to remain anonymous but tells FOX 4 he is still trying to get his tax return from last year after finding out a crook got to his money first.
"Seven months later, you're in the same position you were," he said.
Tax Fraud happens all the time according to a special agent with the IRS, Miguel Rivera.
"Florida leads the nation in stolen identity refund fraud," Rivera said.
And, it's growing. The IRS saw more than triple the cases last year compared to the average. Victims don't find out until its too late..
"Usually they would find out when they go to file their own taxes and it is rejected by the IRS," said Rivera.
Fraud is so big in Florida that the federal Office of the Inspector General recently expanded from Washington, D.C. to Fort Myers.
"They opened a couple offices nationwide but really mostly big cities," said Nicole Waid with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Florida. "So, it really speaks kind of volumes that they decided to open one in Fort Myers."
Waid says to avoid fraud, shred documents with any personal information, don't give information online unless it's a secure website and protect that Social Security number.
"Just because somebody asks, we need as a society to learn to say no," she said.
And, when it comes to taxes, the IRS suggests to beat the criminals at their game.
"File as soon as you can to help possibly beat the criminals to it," said Rivera.
If you need help, the Southwest Florida IRS office is on Metro Parkway in Fort Myers.
You can also get information on the website of the IRS.
It's not just tax fraud rampant in Florida. Investment, healthcare and bank fraud are on the rise as well.