RENO, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) -- You probably take steps to prevent your identity from being stolen, but have you thought about who will protect your name and private information after you die? One local family found out the hard way that identity theft isn't limited to the living.
Nearly two years ago 30-year-old Ryan Penrod was killed in a tragic motorcycle crash. His family had no idea that a battle with the IRS over Ryan's identity would keep them from moving on for 21 months.
"It was difficult enough losing him like we did and then to have somebody steal his identity was just, opened the wounds again," said Ryan's mother Paula Penrod.
She lost her son January 31, 2011.
"It seems like it was just yesterday," Penrod said.
After his death the family filed a final tax return on his behalf - but an identity thief had beaten them to it.
"[The thief] got this $2,900 refund in the middle of January, while we filed Ryan's real tax return in the first part of April," said Tim Nelson, the Penrod family accountant.
"We're getting demands from the IRS for moneys that ouson does not owe because they have combined the fraudulent tax return with his actual tax return, and they are stating that our son owes them $5,500," Penrod said.
In reality Ryan was due a $28 refund, and in order to report the fraud his family had to offer up their own sensitive information.
"We had to send in our social security numbers, a photo government I.D.," Penrod said. "We had to jump through hoops to prove who we were but yet a criminal was able just to steal our son's identity."
Nelson says there is nothing the Penrods could have done to prevent this. He says he has had three clients recently dealing with tax fraud but nationwide it is much worse.
"In the worst cases that I've read about there's literally hundreds of returns processed in a very short time with the idea that the thieves will collect as much as they can and move on in a two to three week period before the IRS actually catches up to them," Nelson said.
To make matters worse, Senator Dean Heller says the thieves learn as the stakes change.
"The problem with identity theft is they're always one step ahead," Sen. Heller said. "No matter what we try, everything we do, and there's more to do. Don't get me wrong. But they're always one step ahead and it's very very frustrating."
Penrod says the IRS seems to be more than one step behind.
"I never dreamt in a million years that this is how our government operates," Penrod said. "You do everything like you're supposed to legally. You notify everyone that you're supposed to. You fill out all of the paperwork, send in all of the forms you're supposed to, and it doesn't stop. It just doesn't stop."
It finally stopped for the Penrods in October when they received a $28 refund check from the IRS after more than a year and a half of paperwork and phone calls.