If you’ve read with interest Don Carrington’s recent reports about stolen-identity tax fraud in North Carolina (and elsewhere), you’re likely to appreciate a five-page feature in the latest Bloomberg Businessweek. It documents an illegal tax fraud scheme in Miami.
Organized crime has learned that stealing from the federal government can be easier and more lucrative than dealing drugs. “You know there are guys out there doing it better,” says [North Miami Beach gang detective Craig] Catlin. “We’re getting the idiots, and some of them are doing $1 million or $2 million worth in fraud.” In 2012, Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, formed a task force to attack the tax-fraud “epidemic.” The South Florida Identity Theft Tax Fraud Strike Force is comprised of agents from the Secret Service, the IRS’s Criminal Investigation unit, the FBI, the USPS Office of the Inspector General, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as officers from local police departments, including Catlin. In 2012, the Strike Force’s work resulted in 79 indictments for attempted thefts totaling $40 million. By October 2013 it had risen to 269 defendants and $449 million in intended payouts.
Although the government can be slow to build roads and fix budgets, it can issue tax returns within days. All a criminal needs to assemble fake returns are real Social Security numbers, dates of birth, bank account information, addresses, and an Internet connection. Bundles of personal data can be bought or acquired online, often in batches that number in the thousands. They’re frequently stolen from health-care providers, whose employees have access to reams of personal information, and they’re available from sites such as DOBsearch.com.
With stolen or even legally obtained identity data, thieves file for multiple refunds using various names, inputting fictional information about topics like employment, income, and dependents. They request that the money be deposited directly into a bank account, often opened with a fake name, or they have the funds loaded onto prepaid cards. Victims may not figure out something fishy has occurred for months. The identities of prisoners are especially useful, as prisoners are often not on top of their tax situation or activity in their bank accounts.