TODAY   |  March 30, 2013

Crackdown on thieves filing fake tax returns

It has happened to nearly one million taxpayers across the country in the past year alone: Thieves steal taxpayer identities and then file a tax return and obtain a refund. “Initially there was zero risk,” said Sal Augeri, a detective on the case. “They would basically laugh at law enforcement.” NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

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>>> if you're stretched out this weekend from doing your taxes, this next story may make you a little more anxious. it's about criminals who have made over $5 billion last year by ripping off taxpayers and fooling the irs . as rock center's kate snow reports tax refund fraud is becoming one of america's fastest growing scams.

>> reporter: when sheila tried to file her tax return for 2009 , it was kicked back. if you had to describe what the last four years have been like for you -- ?

>> hell.

>> reporter: two years in a row someone filed a tax return in her name. it had to be enormously frustrating.

>> frustrating, scary, aggravating, and time consuming. a lot of calls. a lot of letters. a lot of forms.

>> reporter: it's happened to nearly 1 million taxpayers across the country in the past year alone. first, a thief steals your identity. they get ahold of your name, date of birth, and social security number . then they electronically file a fake return with the irs and obtain a refund. detective sal says the crime is so easy and lucrative criminals in tampa have given up drug dealing to steal from uncle sam . what was the risk of a perpetrator being caught for this kind of fraud on a scale of one to ten?

>> initially zero. the reward far outweighed the risk. they would basically laugh at law enforcement .

>> reporter: rashia wilson bragged on facebook according to investigators that she was the queen of irs tax fraud . she and her boyfriend are accused of raking in more than a million dollars filing fraudulent returns and flaunting it, buying flashy jewelry and luxury cars. police seized this custom made camero filmed by "riding clean" magazine. tv in the back, over-the-top sound system . every rim, police say, paid for at taxpayers' expense. the irs says it's made changes to stop criminals from filing fake returns.

>> we've stopped 20 million from going out the door last filing season. we're constantly balancing how do we make sure we get the legitimate taxpayer their refund as quickly as possible without causing them undue burden but at the same time stopping the bad returns.

>> reporter: this victim is afraid she'll always be vulnerable because her personal information is out there.

>> it's frightening because i don't know how long it will continue, when it will come back at me, and that is something you lose sleep over .

>> reporter: for "today" kate snow , nbc news, fort lauderdale .