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Saturday, Oct 21, 2017
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Fraudulent tax refunds pose grave danger, Castor warns

TAMPA - If the IRS doesn't do something soon to stop mailing out fraudulent tax refunds, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is afraid someone is going to get hurt or killed. "I've been frustrated all along, but I'm very fearful now," said Castor, D-Tampa, who Monday wrote IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express her "grave concerns." Castor said a constituent came to her office recently and described a frightening experience. Castor said a woman who had lived at the same Tampa address for 20 years started receiving several pieces of mail addressed to other people, including a $12,000 tax refund check. Castor said the mail was turned over to investigators.
But what happened next was really frightening. Someone came to the house when the woman's teenaged children were present and asked for the mail. The residents didn't let the person in and sent him away, Castor said. The woman was back at Castor's office last week with even more of the mail that was delivered to her house. Her neighbors were having the same experience. "I'm very fearful now that someone could get hurt, that these crooks are going to cross the line like they did with the mail carriers," Castor said, referring to a letter carrier who was briefly kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint in Seminole Heights in April by someone who wanted tax refund checks. Last year, authorities say, two men killed a letter carrier in Miami to steal his mailbox key to use for tax fraud. Tampa leads the nation in tax refund fraud in which thieves use other people's identities to file tax returns to get fraudulent tax refunds. Authorities say the crooks use this method to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from federal taxpayers in the Tampa area alone and billions nationwide. To cover their tracks and evade detection, authorities say, the thieves have refunds sent to different addresses where they intercept the mail through various means. Sometimes they have an agreement with the letter carrier. Other times, they watch mailboxes, knowing the residents aren't home. They also use vacant homes and addresses of people they know. Castor said she's met with the IRS repeatedly and has been told the agency is "working on it. They're working on screens and filters, but I just don't see any evidence that it is working. If it is working, they need to provide some evidence. But unfortunately, the Tampa Bay area remains No. 1, according to reports. We don't want to be No. 1. … Someone could get hurt." If the agency doesn't act soon, she said, "It could cost someone their life."

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTrib

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