WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) introduced legislation to help fight identity theft on tax refunds. Criminals are increasingly filing false tax returns using stolen private identity information in order to illegally claim their victims’ refunds. According to the New York Times, in 2012 at least 2.6 million tax returns were filed by identity thieves, double the number recorded in 2011. The STOP Identity Theft Act of 2012 would help crack down on identity thieves and protect victims by focusing law enforcement resources and increasing penalties on perpetrators. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) are introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Identity theft is wreaking havoc on peoples’ lives and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year,” said Klobuchar. “This bill would go a long way to help law enforcement use their resources more efficiently and effectively so they can crack down on criminals who are stealing countless Americans’ hard-earned money.”

“This legislation will streamline the process for authorities to protect Americans from criminals who steal personal identifying information in order to steal a lawful taxpayer’s refund from the IRS,” said Sessions.“Identity theft is a growing problem nationwide that requires decisive action to curb this illicit behavior and bring criminals to justice.”

In cases of widespread fraud across the country, criminals using stolen information such as Social Security numbers have been electronically filing false tax returns before the legitimate taxpayer files in order to steal the taypayer’s refund. The victims often experience long delays in receiving their rightful refund or never receive it at all.

The STOP Identity Theft Act of 2012  would direct the Department of Justice to focus its resources in areas with a high rate of tax-return identity theft and to coordinate investigations with state and local law enforcement agencies. The bill would increase the maximum jail sentence on perpetrators from 15 to 20 years and expand the definition of a victim of identity theft to allow for prosecution in cases where organizations and businesses—not just individuals—are victims of fraud.