How tough are things right now? So tough that three former National Football League players allegedly resorted to identity theft and tax fraud to make money.
South Florida media are reporting that the three ex-NFL players were among the latest caught in the tax fraud crackdown in the Sunshine State.
The accused men are William Joseph, a University of Miami defensive tackle drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003; Michael Bennett, a University of Wisconsin running back also drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001; and Louis Gachelin, a Syracuse University defensive tackle who was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2004.
Federal investigators allege that they were part of a scheme to steal identities and file false tax returns in the stolen names to collect thousands of dollars in refunds.
And although the alleged involvement of former NFL players is a first, federal officials say it's just another indication that there a growing tax ID theft problem.
Because of the way our tax system works, crooks get a lead time for their criminal actions. The Internal Revenue Service doesn't match W-2 info until months after employers file the data with the agency and taxpayers send in their returns.
So if someone gets your tax ID early in the filing season and sends in a return in your name before you file your real 1040, you are the one who ends up paying.
While federal investigators and the IRS are sorting out who is the real taxpayer, you are stuck waiting for your refund.
This is yet another reason to file early, especially if you're expecting money back from Uncle Sam.
The IRS has implemented computer checks that look more closely at returns in an attempt to stop tax fraud. Those efforts are working.
A Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report found that through March 3, the IRS had identified more than 441,000 tax returns claiming $2.7 billion in fraudulent refunds and prevented the issuance of $2.6 billion (97 percent) of those fraudulent refunds.
There was just one downside. The computer checks also slowed down the delivery of legitimate refunds.
But given the growth of tax fraud, it looks like waiting for a refund is the price that taxpayers are going to have to pay.
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