Saturday, September 8, 2012

Class action lawsuit alive and well...

The lawyer I contacted earlier in the year is still fighting for the little guy. Awesome.

7 Sep 2012
Tampa Bay Online
ID fraud victims, IRS face off
Clearwater lawyer Jim Staack may have found a way for frustrated identity theft victims to get their overdue tax refunds: Sue the IRS.

Last year, Staack represented James and Christine Gordon in their effort to pursue a class action on behalf of identity theft victims who were unable to obtain their rightful tax refunds. The Gordons got their refund 12 days after the suit was filed.

Then Staack added Crystal Lake as a plaintiff in the case. Twelve days later, she got her refund.
The Internal Revenue Service then filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing it was moot because the plaintiffs had gotten the relief they sought.

Staack tried to add more names to another amended complaint, but U.S. District Judge James Moody wouldn't allow it. He granted an IRS motion and dismissed the suit in June. Because the Gordons and Lake had received their refunds, the judge ruled, they no longer had the right to pursue a claim.
Now Staack is suing the IRS again. This time, he has 16 named plaintiffs. One, Patricia Carey, has been waiting 4½ years for her refund.


Way to go IRS - you really f*#^ed it up this time

Oh yes... the IRS in all of its infinite wisdom has again stuck it to the honest taxpayer.

I will admit that I was a bit giddy when I received an envelope from the IRS this afternoon. I was thinking "wow, is it possible this tax fraud issue ACTUALLY worked out for someone?"

In short - NO.


And again.... HELL NO.

I opened my IRS notice today, only to find a letter stating:

"We made the changes you requested to your 2011 Form 1040 to adjust your:
- total Federal income tax withheld
- Schedule A

As a result you owe $6,767.53"

Folks... WTF.

I have no issue posting that number publicly, because this is significantly more than double what I was DUE AS A REFUND.

Oh, and did I mention this random $6,767.53 is due by October 8th? Yeah, yippy skippy.

I  contacted Tanya Arja (who conducted my on-camera interview earlier in the year). I am sending a certified letter of appeal to the IRS on Monday, and contacting the offices of Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Senator Bill Nelson.

Dear IRS, the three-lettered-agency-from-hell and the bane of every tax fraud victim's existence... I have two letters you can become more intimately familiar with: F. U.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Will implicating those on public assistance as primary suspects hurt those who need it most? My answer is - YES.

If the statistics are true, then you still cannot blame 100% of the people who use assistance.

Blame the ones who commit the crime. (If caught) make them ineligible from ever using assistance in the future. But just because 80-90% of this particular crime are on assistance, doesn't mean you can vilify 100% of the group - because there are plenty of people who just need a boost, and do not (nor intend to ever) live their lives permanently on the dole.  I see this as the start to another kind of class warfare that we do not need introduced during such hard economic times.

This article does not overtly incite this type of thinking, but, I do see it as the precursor to what can go down a very ugly road.

20 Aug 2012
Herald Tribune
Tax refund fraud linked to some living on welfare

Last summer, the state sent a notice to a felon's apartment, reminding Jerry Myea Lee that his food stamps would dry up if he did not reapply.

The form letter spit out other offers. Did he need child support? A telephone discount? How about an Earned Income Tax Credit? Lee, then 36, kept the paper.

As a teenager, he had grown 10 inches eating state-paid food in prison. Each time he got in trouble and pleaded poverty -- robbery, then drugs and guns -- the public paid for his lawyers. His state and federal incarcerations cost taxpayers almost $300,000.

He was a free man on July 6, 2011, cruising around Tampa in a rented Dodge Charger, when, during a traffic stop, a police dog got a whiff of weed.

In a bag behind the driver's seat, officers found Lee's food stamps letter -- and $30,980 in cash. Eleven days later, he was caught in Orlando with a U.S. Treasury check made out to someone else.
Tampa police suspect his cash had roots in tax refund fraud, which has drained billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury.

If so, it came from the same beleaguered source that has paid to feed, house and defend Lee all these years. You.

Tampa police estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the tax refund fraud they encounter is committed by people on public assistance.

"The people who are benefiting most from our taxes are the ones doing it," said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Per my last update, the IRS was supposed to contact me by August 23rd with an update from my case worker on the current status of my refund issue.

Naturally... no dice.

Thus, I called the IRS on Friday to diligently follow-up and determine my next course of action - or rather, inaction.

You can imagine my surprise when I was connected with a very pleasant and helpful customer service rep (Mrs. Patron, Cust Svc #0678121).  She was able to clarify a few issues on my case, and FINALLY delivered some happy news (although we'll see if it actually pans out!):

1) I was never assigned a case worker. I was a bit peeved to learn this, however, she informed me that the previous rep I talked to was not providing accurate information, and while I was in the window for a customer service rep to be assigned, my case was actually in the process of being resolved vice just investigated.

2) The fraudulent return is currently in the process of being actively deleted from my account. The have verified my information from my affidavit and my previous claim history.

3) My tax return in being processed, and is in the 6-8 week window for normal processing of paper-filed claims. Mrs Patron indicated that if I have not received my return by September 21st, I need to contact the IRS again.

4) My account is flagged and will be monitored for another 3 years.  Ultimately, my thought is that they SHOULD HAVE CAUGHT THE FRAUDULENT RETURN IN THE FIRST PLACE. Since my information has been verified, all future returns will be placed on hold, a confirmation letter will be sent to my home address, and I must return this notice to identify if I indeed filed a return on XX day, for XX $$$.

I asked about having an additional tax identifier or pin number issued for future returns, and the IRS said "no". I'm not sure I believe that part, and it deserves some additional research. But overall I'm happy with this idea of multi-layer confirmation that my return is in fact being filed by me, myself, and I.

I guess I'm not putting too much faith in this process. Its great to have positive news... but until I have my tax return in hand, I'll question everything, take notes, and report my experience. Its hard to take the word of an agency that has already botched the tax fraud issue so poorly!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Editorial: Dispiriting findings in federal tax-fraud probe

10 Aug 2012
Tampa Bay Online
Dispiriting findings in federal tax-fraud probe

The Internal Revenue Service assures us members of the taxpaying public that it is trying harder to stop sending our money to identity thieves, but a recent audit leaves us far from reassured.
The recent review found that the IRS missed more than $5.2 billion in fraudulent refunds last tax year. More specifically, they were "potentially" fraudulent returns, because relatively few of the larcenists have been caught and prosecuted. Whatever else it may have missed, the IRS says it did stop $6.5 billion in fraud.

If both estimates are correct, then the crooks are batting .444 in getting big refunds. That's disheartening. The odds of scoring an IRS payout are much too high.

The IRS didn't volunteer these statistics. The audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration was requested by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

He is responding to complaints from Tampa Police and other officials here that phony tax returns are bringing windfall returns to local crooks. Based on the number of obviously fishy filings, Tampa appears to lead the nation in the prevalence of tax-refund fraud.

Fortunately, Tampa police and postal authorities here have been unusually aggressive in sounding the alarm about the network of sophisticated criminals who have learned that the IRS can be tricked into sending money now and asking questions only later.

Nelson has proposed a bill that would restrict access to Social Security numbers and allow for better cooperation between local police and federal agents. It's a start but won't plug all the holes in a system with such a big temptation to cheat. As long as a major part of the federal government's aid to individuals is delivered through the income-tax system, the swindle will continue. That's demoralizing.

Even if an enforcement crackdown succeeds in Tampa, the tax-cheat gangs can easily relocate.
And the incentive to cheat could increase. Many conservatives argue that the best way to provide broader health coverage is to mail qualified households cash incentives through the IRS rather than to penalize those who lack coverage, as is the controversial approach under new health care law. Such an expansion of the possibilities for fraud doesn't make sense to us as long as the current system is hemorrhaging so much money,

The scale of the loss is to all honest taxpayers extremely frustrating. One home in Lansing, Mich., sent in 2,137 returns and got back $3.3 million in refunds.

From another single home in Chicago came 765 returns for the 2011 tax year resulting in $903,084 in refunds. A home in Belle Glade sent in 741 returns and got $1 million. A post office box in Orlando was linked to 703 returns and $1 million in refunds. So when we hear that one house in Tampa sent in 518 returns and got back $1.8 million, it doesn't sound all that unusual.

We would like to think that if the IRS got 2,137 requests for different refunds from a single house, it would at least take a look at the address on Google Earth and see if looks like a place where a few thousand people could actually live.

Tampa Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis told Tampa Tribune reporter Elaine Silverstrini, "It's something we have been talking about for going on three years and felt like no one was listening." To taxpayers, that's discouraging.

The IRS, never known as a chatty agency, has had little to say on the record about this issue. Clearly, it needs more manpower to discover and prosecute fraud, and a lesser role as the nation's welfare banker.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Case Update

Per my original call with the IRS in March, I was supposed to have a case manager contact me by 23 May via official mail.

Well, that date came and went, and I contacted the IRS on 31 May (approx 1430 hrs) to let them know I still lacked a letter, or any information for that matter on my case status.

I was connected with a very pleasant and straight-forward woman identified as "Ms Kelly," Cust Service # 1306598. She was a real straight shooter, polite, but no B.S.

I was dismayed to learn that yes, my file had been assigned a case worker on 17 May, however, it would be yet ANOTHER 90 days before the case manager would actually call me.

What. The. Hell.

Thus, its 180 days just to SPEAK to someone to get a legitimate status update. IRS Customer Service reps are also not permitted to provided the name of my case worker (which I find very weird).

However, Ms. Jelly was sympathetic, and explained that I was "on the ball" and far ahead of other folks. She said that the IRS was still handling cases from last year, but most individuals were not organized or proactive, and that I was actually assigned a case worker rather quickly.

I do appreciate her candid honesty, but still - 180 DAYS!? Granted, I did not experience the 2+ hour wait time (some articles have indicated 4-6) on the phone, and I have yet to visit an IRS office in person (which is where I believe most of those wait times exist). I waited for approximately 10 minutes, and Ms. Kelly was able to place me on hold for about 2 minutes while she researched my file.

She freely admitted that the new electronic system has complicated tax fraud issues, and without denigrating her employer, hinted that just going back to the old school paper filing method would help alleviate many of these issues with tax fraud/tax theft.

I agree... instant gratification or facilitating individuals who don't have a checking account have complicated so many things.

Argh... this is just frustrating.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NYT Article

So, Ms Alvarez did not use my information from our interview for her article. Not a big deal - I declined to have photo taken (I was busy that week) and I refused to divulge the amount I was due as a refund (that is not America's business!).

However, she published a well-written article, and I am altogether pleased with her research.

And surprise, surprise. Still nothing from the IRS case manager! Guess who is getting a call tomorrow from one. angry. customer.

New York Times
May 27, 2012
With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often
by Lizette Alvarez

Indictment and plea in two Tampa tax fraud cases

 May 29, 2012
Tampa Bay Times

A used car dealer accused of accepting fraudulent tax refund checks as payment by customers and filing his own false tax returns has been indicted on a variety of fraud charges in a scheme that netted $1.17 million, the U.S. Attorney's Office said on Tuesday.

Russell B. Simmons Jr., 42, who operated Simmons Auto Sales, 4615 N 34th St., Tampa, was indicted on charges of tax fraud, identity theft, wire fraud, theft of government property and filing false returns.
Simmons accepted federal tax refund checks that he knew were obtained fraudulently "with a much higher value than the price of the vehicles he sold, keeping the difference for himself," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida said Tuesday.

"Stealing identities and filing false tax returns is a serious crime that hurts innocent taxpayers," IRS criminal investigation chief Richard Weber said in a statement.

Simmons was first arrested in late 2011 after police searched his business and found 134 Turbo Tax cards, two Jaguars, a Bentley and $38,000 in cash and money orders. At the time, he was charged with grand theft and identity theft, not tax fraud.

In an unrelated case, Arswaya Ralph, 33, of Riverview, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Tampa federal court to filing a false income tax claim and identity theft. She will be sentenced later this year.
In 2010, Ralph filed 65 fraudulent tax returns with a value of $467,000, according to her plea agreement. The scheme was so brazen that Ralph held "drop parties" where she and others filed numerous fraudulent returns, prosecutors say.

Law enforcement authorities said they found $27,000 in Ralph's bedroom closet when they searched her home.

The cases are a product of Operation Rainmaker, a yearlong effort by local and federal law enforcement that has intercepted at least 10,000 fraudulent returns worth more than $100 million, federal officials say. In addition to federal agencies, both the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough Sheriff's Office are taking part.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview with the New York Times

It has been a couple weeks of the usual day-to-day doldrums.  I was snapped back into tax fraud reality today when I was contacted by Lizette Alvarez from the New York Times (she is a resident reporter based in Miami).

I completed a phone interview with her tonight, and had a very casual conversation about my situation; essentially, I recapped my experience and my thoughts on this epidemic.

The story should run in the next couple days. Let's see if the NYT captures my thoughts correctly, without embellishment or sensationalism.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Class action lawsuit

Last Thursday (4/19) I received an email from an attorney's office requesting participation in a class action lawsuit against the IRS. First, I am not a litigious person.  I believe in our legal system, but unfortunately the magnitude of this issue overshadows the need to seek retribution.  But I would rather see our government throw its weight behind changing laws, policies, and practices to overhaul both the technical and human elements of its security and privacy systems - vice going crazy over playing damage control over some tax returns.

Here is the text from the email:

"You are receiving this email as one of our potential class members in the suit we have filed for refunds from the IRS. 

We filed our suit naming Chris and Jay Gordon as named plaintiffs.  Within two days, the Gordon’s received their refund.  This gives the IRS a chance to argue that the Gordon’s cannot bring suit since they were paid and, therefore have no “standing” to sue.  Because of this, we amended the complaint and added Crystal Lake as a named plaintiff.  Within days, Crystal received her refund.  The IRS has now filed a motion to dismiss claiming that the Gordon’s and Ms. Lake lack standing to sue.  This type of behavior happens a lot in the class action arena.  However, courts have come to recognize that, in most cases where a defendant’s conduct toward the plaintiff changes after a suit has been filed, the defendant has not turned over a new leaf but is trying to undermine the lawsuit.  Accordingly, when this occurs, the courts now place the burden on the defendant to prove that it is not merely trying to disqualify the named plaintiffs.  Unfortunately, when the federal government is the defendant, the standard is different.  The burden is on us to prove the IRS is taking deliberate steps to eliminate our named plaintiffs by providing refunds to plaintiffs after they are named in the suit.  Accordingly, we wish to file an additional amended complaint with more named plaintiffs.  Many of you have indicated in the past that you would be willing to serve as a named representative party plaintiff.  I have attached a form retainer agreement.  If you are interested in actively participating, please sign the retainer letter return it to us.  Please note, our amended complaint must be filed by Monday (April 23) so we'll need a quick response."

There are approximately 215,000,000 taxpayers in the United States. Of that, approximately 460,000 individuals have been reported affected by tax fraud since 2008. That is roughly less that a quarter of a percent of all taxpayers affected by this despicable crime. Yes - IT SUCKS. However, I just want my tax return. I don't need to sue Uncle Sam - just do what's right, okay?

Monday, April 16, 2012

See my interview on Fox 13

Interview finally aired on Fox 13.

Woo buddy, I need to put the cheeseburgers down after deployment!

For the record, I don't have high hopes that I'll see my return, but this type crime is so complicated and complex that our own laws that in place to protect us as taxpayers gets in the way of smooth collaboration between local and federal law enforcement.  Its unfortunate, but there's just no way our system will work through this quick enough to see my return come through in year or less.

In other news... 
12 April 2012, The Ledger: Tax Refund Finally Arrives for Widow of Slain Officer Whose Identity Was Stolen

This poor woman had to deal with this issue for TWO YEARS, in addition to the pain of losing her husband.  I'm thankful that the government was able to finally intervene and this fallen officer's family.

 Timeline Update

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hacked By Turbo Tax

This blogger has an awesome page dedicated to their similar issue; an absolute must read.

Our stories all seem to parallel each other.  How many will it take before the IRS (and the federal government) become proactive and change their policies to help the victims, instead of protecting the guilty?

Interview with Fox 13

Almost forgot... yesterday afternoon I completed an interview with Ms Tanya Arja from Tampa's Fox 13. I'm still waiting on a response from my public affairs officer before submitting a photo of myself in uniform so she can release her story, however, it was nice just being able to discuss the story with a member of the media.

Hopefully other individuals will have the opportunity to have their stories heard...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Will the IRS begin to "play nice" with local law enforcement in Tampa?

07 April 2012, Pilot program targeting tax fraud progresses

"Authorities are moving forward with a plan to allow the IRS to share some information with law enforcement agencies investigating tax refund fraud.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials met on Thursday with the Internal Revenue Service to talk about a proposed pilot program in which the IRS would seek waivers from identity theft victims to allow the federal government to share fraudulent tax returns filed in their names."

On another note... over the weekend I was "introduced" via phone call to another military member experiencing the same tax fraud hell.  It's really becoming difficult to stomach the lengths at which people will go to take money from hard working Americans, who are not only taxpayers but individuals willing to give up personal freedoms (and perhaps their lives!) in order to provide the very blanket of security these criminals hide under. They should add extra time to each criminal's prison sentence for every military member they stole from...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tax fraud undercover video

5 Apr 2012,   This is a neat little gem... actually watching undercover police video of someone stealing hard earned taxpayer income. Sort of makes your blood boil a little!

The media ... a force to be reckoned with.

So, in one week's time, I have been contacted by two separate media outlets: (3/28) Scott Zamost, a Sr. Producer from CNN Atlanta, and today I received a call and email from Tanya Arja, a reporter from Fox 13.

Mr. Zamost is collecting information for the follow-on story (CNN broke the initial piece at the national level), and Ms. Arja is also developing their package from the local perspective. I will say, that I did not focus my research skills on this subject until I was a victim of tax fraud - but the local reporting on the issue has been long-term and persistent. I feel foolish for not being better informed, although there is not much you can do to protect yourself from this crime!

Either way, both media sources have their benefits. I am more inclined to stick with a local news element in order to build the nexus of victims in Tampa Bay, and allow our voices to be heard collectively with other communities nationwide.

Info updated on my timeline:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

One down, only hundreds more to go...

27 Mar 2012, Tampa Bay Online:   

The crackdown on an income tax fraud and identity theft scheme in the Tampa Bay area has ensnared a man whose family owns a Tampa clothing and cash checking store, records show.

"Its estimated he was probably clearing roughly $100,000 in fraudulent checks, through his business, every week."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Keeping track of it all...

I am going to maintain a timeline, in order to keep a lot of critical events in order. Its one thing to say "I've called x-number of times," but to have a graphical representation of an issue often helps throw some weight behind your cause.

I have been paying taxes since I was 15 years old. I remember my mother requesting permission from the city Board of Education office to allow me to work my first job collecting and issuing golf balls at the local driving range. I remember seeing my first paycheck and realizing that, wow, that's a big chunk of money I don't get to bring home!

Seventeen years later, I am still part of the taxpaying system. Which is okay, its all part of the game, I suppose. I am employed full-time as a defense contractor, and I am also a Reservist, having served 8 years enlisted active duty before receiving my commission as a Reserve officer.  I am a homeowner who invests substantial time and money into making my abode beautiful, and a nice place to hang out.

I recently returned from an overseas deployment in January. Upon receipt of my W-2's, I promptly filed my tax return in February via a well-known, commercial tax filing service (which I have used for several years, without issue). I received a notice via email within 24 hours that a return had already been filed with my taxpayer ID. I immediately reviewed my credit report, and following IRS instruction I submitted a form indicating possible identity theft, and resubmitted a paper return. I have done all that I can do as the victim.

I read this week's article on, and I'm happy to see that the Tampa Police Department and their Special Investigations Unit is calling the IRS to the carpet for their failure to perform. It's frustrating! I have a flawless history of prompt and accurate returns, but I must wait for the IRS to do their job. I contacted the IRS to follow-up on the status of my affidavit, only to be told that I would, quote: "hopefully receive a notice from an IRS case worker within 90 days" (note: I have already waited nearly 60 days, and the date I was provided was almost another 60 days from today.) If I did not receive a notice, it was MY responsibility to wait in the queue for a case worker's assistance.

In addition, the IRS customer service rep commented that she thought it was "odd" that the IRS did not flag my return as a possible fraud case, as it was filed without the historical indicators that are routinely on my tax returns. The IRS is restricted from providing any further details of my case, which is understandable. However, when I retorted that this was essentially the fault of the IRS as well for just handing over my money without vetting the return for accuracy, and it was not just the fault of the thieves that stole my hard-earned money, she responded that "yeah, they (the IRS) should have caught that but they didn't."

Nice. Just what an honest taxpayer wants to hear: "OOPS!", from the IRS.

I have lived in Tampa since 2004. I love Tampa and West Florida - warts and all. However, the dark underbelly of this city is becoming more and more in focus, as it becomes one of the epicenters of a national tax fraud issue.  And I am one of its most recent victims.

I tend to keep to myself, but with the growing number of fellow taxpayers being subjected to identity theft and government bureaucracy, well... I choose not to be silent now.

I have created this blog to track my situation, start to finish, to document the process from initial notification from the IRS, to a potentially tedious and final resolution.

I hope to share news articles, research, tips for personal security, and updates as my situation progresses.

I invite others to share their stories as well, but I advise that any and all discussion remain civil, in order to promote positive debate and discourse.

My name is Emily, and this is my story...