FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Police say we're entering the peak season for identity theft for tax fraud. And a Fresno woman accused of pretending to be other people to cash in on big tax returns is out of custody as of Tuesday.
Action News tracked down the suspect and three of her alleged victims. The victims have wildly different stories about how someone stole their identities, but they all found out they what had happened when they had big problems filing their taxes. The IRS delivered a disturbing message when Sarah Wills filed to get her tax refund last year. "We tried to do e-file and we couldn't because they said our numbers had already been used," she said.
It was actually her three children whose identities were stolen and used on three different tax returns. Fresno police tracked the big refunds back to an apartment in northwest Fresno and when they served a search warrant there, they discovered the Wills kids were far from alone. "We found that there were many victims' names on different tax forms, checks, bank records," said Sgt. Brian Rogers, who heads the financial crimes unit at the Fresno Police Department.
Police arrested Aimee Garza for the crimes, but she was back at the apartment Tuesday, so an Action News reporter confronted her about committing tax fraud.
"Is that something that's still going on?" the reporter asked her.
"I don't want to talk about it," Garza said. "Is it still going on?" the reporter repeated.
"Is there fraud going on? No there's not fraud going on," Garza said. "I mean, I tried to do my own taxes like two years ago and I couldn't figure that out, so I didn't end up doing it. So I don't know how I'm doing everybody else's."
Prosecutors haven't filed charges against Garza yet, but police say it's just a matter of time. And they warn the damage she's done could last a long time. If a crook is filing your taxes, they have enough information to commit more identity theft -- like getting car loans or credit cards.
And it's a hard genie to stuff back in the bottle. Investigators say identity thieves often sell the information, so several people may have access to the same identities. For the wills kids, that may mean a lifetime of looking over their shoulders. "I've had my house broken into and things stolen and I mean irreplaceable pictures of kids growing up," said their mother, Sarah Wills. "But this is worse."
The Wills family moved out of state after discovering the identity theft. We interviewed Sarah Wills by phone. She said she hopes whoever stole the identities goes to prison "forever,"
The victims to whom we talked all got free identity protection for a year after the crimes, but after that, it can cost more than $100 a year.
Here's a link to tools from the IRS to protect yourself from identity theft: