METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - Nationally, federal agencies look into cases of suspicious tax returns filed this year using a popular tax software. A Jefferson Parish woman claims someone stole her identity and her tax refund. She turned to the FOX 8 Defenders to help track down the thousands of dollars she should have received.
Amanda Collins of Metairie filed her 2014 tax return in February. "I was trying to do it as soon as possible," Collins said. For the first time, she went the online route. "I decided to do TurboTax, thinking it would be quicker and easier," she said.
The do-it-yourself tax preparation site says, "you answer simple questions about your life.. we do all the math." A single mom struggling to make ends meet, Collins planned on using her nearly $4,500 tax refund to pay for a car repair, but after waiting several weeks, she still had not received the refund in the mail.
"The IRS said they sent my money out, on the 6th of March, and I'm like, 'well where did you send it to?' because I had checked for it to be mailed to my house," explained Collins. According to Collins, the IRS told her the money went to a bank. "I called them, and they were like yeah, we had to take $25 out, so they were like 'we took the money out, and we put the rest of the money on a Green Dot card.' And I'm like 'wait, what do you mean a Green Dot card?' because I didn't want a Green Dot card. I don't have a bank account. I wanted the check mailed to my house," Collins said.
Collins went back to her computer, pulled up her TurboTax file and was shocked at what she found. "I pulled it (tax return) back up on the computer, and then mysteriously there's these numbers here for this card. I don't know where this card came from. I don't know how anybody got a hold of it," she said.
Collins says someone altered her tax return. Instead of her request for a tax refund by mail, she discovered a routing number and checking account number. Remember, Collins told us she doesn't have a bank account. We searched online, and that routing number belongs to Green Dot Bank. She quickly learned all of the nearly $4,500 she was supposed to get back in the mail had already been spent in our area.
"A week later they (Green Dot) send me this form, stating that you know that somebody else other than me used the card," Collins explained. A Green Dot spokesperson tells FOX 8 that in order to open a Green Dot card and load a tax refund on it, you need a social security number and an address, meaning not only did someone steal her refund, they've got her personal information too.
"Cybersecurity and the integrity of the tax system have never been more important than they are in this tax season," said Dave Williams, CEO of Intuit, which created TurboTax. An Intuit spokesperson tells FOX 8 that they can't comment on a specific consumer case, but Diane Carlini says this season, the tax software company has added multi-factor authentication questions to fight fraud, meaning anytime a consumer logs in, they now have to answer specific questions. Plus, the company says it has specialists on hand to work with consumers like Collins to resubmit an amended return in order to speed up the refund process.
Amanda Collins may not be alone. TurboTax confirms regulatory authorities, including Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have contacted the tax software giant, looking into possible tax fraud after a spike in suspicious tax filings.
Like Intuit, the IRS can't comment specifically on Collins' case either, but says taxpayers are likely to see their refunds delayed while it works to take action. According to www.IRS.gov, a typical case can take about 180 days to resolve.
"I been working all year long and hard for this money, just to have someone sweep it from under me. I didn't get to see a dime of it, and it's so heartbreaking and devastating," Collins said.
The IRS suggests you file a report with law enforcement, which Collins has done. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office confirms it's investigating a complaint of identity theft. The IRS also stresses that tax fraud victims should contact a major credit bureau and place a fraud alert on their record, contact their financial institution and complete an identity theft affidavit.
If you have a consumer complaint, call the FOX 8 Defenders at 1-877-670-6397, fill out our online complaint form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org