If the government sent you a half-million dollar tax refund by mistake, would you keep it?
A waitress at Johnny's Downtown in Cleveland recently faced this dilemma and decided to return the chunk of change to the government.
Virginia "Ginny" Hopkins was supposed to receive a $754 tax refund in the mail, WKYC-TV and ABC News reported. But when she received her refund on Tuesday, Hopkins noticed a check made out for $434,712 staring back at her. (H/t The Daily Mail.)
It was a sad sort of illegal jackpot.
Hopkins told WKYC that had the money rightfully been hers, she would have used it to pay for a trip to Hawaii and Rio de Janeiro.
Her family and friends fantasized too. Her grandchildren wanted to go to the sold-out Cleveland concert of a favorite band, Hopkins told ABC News.
Hopkins said she would have been put in jail if she had cashed and spent the tax refund. "They'll put me in Alactraz, waiting on the night shift at Alcatraz," she told WKYC. "They'll reopen the place."
It's possible the $434,712 tax refund was stolen and accidentally sent to Hopkins. A number of thieves are actively going after other people's tax refunds by stealing their identities. The U.S. may issue as much as $26 billion in tax refunds to fraudsters over the next five years, according to J. Russell George, the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration. Nearly half of the 2.2 million fraudulent tax returns the IRS received in 2011 involved identity theft, and more than 640,000 taxpayers were affected by tax fraud last year, according to George and the Wall Street Journal.
With identity theft and tax fraud on the rise, it can take at least a year to reclaim a stolen tax refund. Scammers recently stole Ohio resident Mike Bucalo's Jr. identity in order to claim his $900 tax refund. As a result, he will have to wait another year to receive his refund, The Huffington Post reported in April. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of that $900 is likely to fall.