At the height of the tax season, federal agents on Thursday rounded up about 25 South Florida suspects charged with stealing Social Security numbers and other personal information from unwitting victims to file fraudulent income-tax returns in their names.

The takedown, carried out at the crack of dawn, is the latest in a series of sweeps through South Florida to combat the ever-spreading crimes of ID theft and tax-refund fraud that are costing the U.S. government billions of dollars a year.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, who has launched the only task force in the nation to crack down on the dual crimes, plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning to spotlight the latest arrests before the April 15 tax filing deadline and South Florida’s dubious reputation as the capital of these twin crimes.

Since 2012, his office has prosecuted upwards of 200 defendants who have filed hundreds of millions of dollars in false refund claims with the Internal Revenue Service.

Thursday’s takedown was carried out by dozens of agents with the FBI, IRS, Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies.

Critics say the IRS is partly to blame for the escalating crisis because the agency issues refunds so rapidly in the digital age without checking the accuracy of the information on tax returns, including failing to investigate suspicious claims with stolen names, birthdates and Social Security numbers along with totally fabricated employment and income information.

The IRS has admitted that it rarely checks tax documents such as W-2 income forms in real time to see if employees’ returns match information provided by their employers. That has given tax-fraud offenders ample time early in the tax season to use stolen identities, swiped from hospitals, police stations and other places, to beat legitimate tax filers to the punch.

The problem has spiraled so out of control that some South Florida perpetrators haven’t even bothered with stealing people’s identities to commit tax fraud. They have simply filed phony refund claims for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own names and the IRS has issued them the massive refunds in the form of checks or debit cards.

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