Watch out for tax ID thieves trying to steal your refund

Watch out for tax ID thieves trying to steal your refund

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Joe Hammes thought he had two daughters and a wife named Lisa. Not according to his tax return with the IRS.

"I have a whole new life," said Hammes. "All of a sudden, I have a new wife, and my wife has a new wife!"

He found out through a big check that arrived in the mail. It was a tax refund for about $9,000.

"Yahtzee!" said Hammes. "I've had to pay in for the last ten years. And all of a sudden, I get a $9,000 refund. Bang!"

But it turns out thieves used his name, his address, his Social Security number, plus fake information on family and income to invent a fake refund -- just under the $10,000 limit that might trigger extra attention from the IRS.

"Pretty neat little scam they've got going on," said Hammes.

Of course, that refund the bad guys requested through TurboTax should have gone into their own account. But they apparently botched the account or bank number, so the check ended up going to the address on the return -- Hammes' real address.

Luckily, Hammes said, because that way he found out about the crime. He and his wife also checked her refund with the IRS and found out that thieves had created a fake return for her as well, with a fake refund of about $8,000.

The Hammes are both volunteers at church, part of the Seattle Archdiocese, which has been attacked by ID thieves. They had given their Social Security numbers for volunteer background checks.

"It could happen to anybody," said Hammes.

Now the Hammes have to file their real returns, and they can only file by mail, instead of electronically. They have to include an affidavit of the ID theft, plus contact the credit bureaus and monitor to see if the thieves will do more with their information.

Hammes said the fake refund check went back to the IRS. He said he feels fortunate that he did not actually have a refund coming to him this year, so he does not have to wait the six months---or longer---for the IRS to investigate the case and provide the real refund to the real recipient.

Hammes said he is not happy that a thief would try to take someone else's money.

"Somebody's not a very nice person," said Hammes. "Mean-spirited is a good, good term to use. It's really taking from all of us."

There are things you can do to protect yourself.

If you have not filed your taxes, do so right away so you can beat ID thieves to your refund.

Check with the IRS to see if someone else has already filed a return for you and tried to take your refund. If so, follow the instructions on the IRS site.

The Seattle Archdiocese has helpful information for its employees and volunteers who believe they may be victims of the data breach there. The information may also helpful for people who are not employees and volunteers of the Seattle Diocese.

The Federal Trade Commission also has information on tax ID theft.

Some consumer experts suggest you ask the IRS for a PIN so no one can file taxes on your behalf without the number.

For next year, you may want to consider filing your taxes as soon as possible, so you get your refund first. You may also want to consider changing your withholding so that you pay less money into the IRS and therefore have a smaller refund or no refund coming to you. That way, if someone files a fake return to steal your refund, you are not as vulnerable and do not have to wait for the investigation to finish to receive money.