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Detective: Beware of tax fraud, scams this tax season

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) - Detective Paul Bessette has been investigating financial crimes in Cranston for more than a decade. He says tax fraud and tax scams are rampant.

"It gets hectic," he said.

Last year, Bessette investigated 37 reports of tax fraud, and he says calls are already coming in this tax season.

"That's just the city of Cranston," he said.

"What I need to do, and what we're working on with the IRS, is trying to find out where the refunds went - which bank accounts, where was it cashed?" Bessette explained. "If I find out somebody in South Dakota cashed a check, or Miami, Florida, I can contact the Miami Police Department and they can help me investigate who actually used a Cranston, Rhode Island resident's social security number."

"A lot of it usually ends up in the IRS's hands," he added.

The scams continue to evolve. This month, the IRS alerted consumers to a new tax scam involving stolen data from tax professionals.

According to the IRS, criminals are filing fraudulent returns and using the taxpayer's real bank accounts for the deposits. The thieves then use various tactics to reclaim the money.

In one version of the scam, the taxpayer who received the erroneous refund gets an automated call threatening criminal fraud charges if the taxpayer doesn't immediately return the refund, according to the IRS.

That's why Detective Bessette says it's important for consumers to be aware of the risks.

"Be proactive, not reactive," he said. "Once your identity is stolen and used for whatever it is, to get a tax return, opening up credit cards, your credit is going to be affected for a long time."

"I don't see it getting any easier for us as law enforcement," he said.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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