How thieves can get your tax refund before you do

An ABC 7 I-Team Investigation
PLAINFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- Tax preparation software packages can be an easy way to do taxes and file them electronically. But if people don't double and triple check personal information, their refund could end up in the wrong hands.

Thieves have found a way to get tax refunds before it goes into people's accounts.

"We're just tired of getting the run around. We'd like to get some answers," John Link, who contacted the ABC 7 I-Team, said.

John and Madeleine link of Plainfield, Ill., filed their taxes early this year but they are still waiting on their refund and fear they may never get it.

"All we know is our money is gone," Madeleine Link said.

Every year, they use the popular tax prep software TurboTax and file electronically. This year, when their refund was late, they noticed the wrong banking information on their filing, but it was too late

"We never have to put in any other information because it always carries over from one year to the next. This year something happened to where my account number and routing number for my direct deposit changed. I don't know how, I don't know why," John Link said.

TurboTax told them their refund mysteriously went onto a Green Dot card, a pre-paid debit card.

"I don't know what a Green Dot card is. I've never dealt with Green Dot," John Link said.

The Links were told by Green Dot that their refund on that card was not mailed to the Link's address. Instead it may have gone to the person who they said somehow accessed and changed their TurboTax deposit information.

The couple filed a report with their local police and the IRS.

"We don't know how somebody changed this account number," Madeleine Link said.

When the I-Team contacted Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, that prompted an identity protection agent to call the Links. It turned out, TurboTax emails regarding fraudulent changes to the Link's account were going into a junk folder on the Links' computer.

The TurboTax emails warned the Links that their password was being reset and stated, "We'll always let you know when there are changes to your TurboTax account. This helps keep your account safe."

Intuit told the I-Team that the Links were victims of tax fraud and said, "...Unfortunately, tax refund fraud is a rapidly growing, industry-wide issue, where fraudsters steal identities outside of the tax preparation process and use it to steal legitimate taxpayers' refunds... Intuit has implemented additional security measures in TurboTax, including stronger passwords, multi-factor authentication and customer notices and alerts."

This week, the IRS sent a letter to the Links confirming they are investigating.

"Make sure your routing numbers and account numbers is correct. Make sure that all of your information is correct," John Link said.

People should also remember to identify and filter email addresses from companies they do business with so they don't go to junk folders.

And there are a number of steps people can take to prevent and report tax fraud.

Green Dot has yet to comment about the incident.

Tax theft articles that can help you keep your money safe:

Identity Theft Remains on "Dirty Dozen" List of Tax Scams; IRS, States, Tax Industry Urge People to be Vigilant Against Criminals

Tax Scams / Consumer Alerts:

Tax Time Guide: Protect Personal, Financial, Tax Information and Computers

IRS, States and Tax Industry Combat Identity Theft and Refund Fraud on Many Fronts
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