Posted on December 20th, 2013 No comments
A Broward County man accused of scheming in Key West to cash tens of thousands in fraudulent tax return checks has been arrested by undercover FBI agents, and is being detained on $250,000 bail.
Federal court records state Victor Martinez Pantoja met with undercover operatives in two separate incidents in November. He gave them U.S. Treasury checks and fake driver’s licenses and Social Security cards in order to cash the bad checks.
Pantoja was charged on suspicion of aggravated identity theft and theft of government property or money. As of Wednesday, he had not been indicted by a federal grand jury.
In the first meeting on Nov. 21 at the Marriott Courtyard hotel, 3031-41 N. Roosevelt Blvd., Pantoja told the undercover agents he and a co-conspirator had obtained the fraudulent checks by filing false tax returns using identities of people who died in 2012, according to federal court records. The FBI alleges that Pantoja got those identities from the Internet, but the five-page complaint filed in court doesn’t state how or where Pantoja might have found that information online.
“Pantoja further told the [undercover agents] that he made the driver licenses and Social Security cards on his computer and he agreed to produce counterfeit driver licenses and Social Security cards for the [agents],” the complaint states.
He allegedly negotiated a deal with the undercover FBI agents to cash three U.S. Treasury checks worth a combined $27,263 and give him $20,500 of that. The rest they were to keep as part of the scheme.
“Pantoja endorsed the back of each Treasury check by forging the names listed on the front of each Treasury check,” the complaint states.
He also agreed at that meeting to bring more checks, worth about $100,000, back to Key West for another meeting with the agents on Nov. 26, records say.
The undercover agents met with Pantoja on that date in Davie and recorded the meeting using audio and video equipment. Pantoja can be seen and heard giving them six checks worth a combined $35,547 before being arrested, according to court records.
He has a detainment hearing scheduled in Fort Lauderdale. His arraignment was set also in Fort Lauderdale.
Pantoja has been tentatively assigned a federal public defender.
Posted on November 25th, 2013 No comments
More fraudulent refunds were sent to Miami than any other U.S. city — but 655 were sent to a single address in Lithuania, according to an inspector general’s report.
The Internal Revenue Service issued $4 billion in fraudulent tax refunds last year to people using stolen identities, with some of the money going to addresses in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ireland, according to an inspector general’s report released Thursday. The IRS sent a total of 655 tax refunds to a single address in Lithuania, and 343 refunds went to a lone address in Shanghai.
In the U.S., more fraudulent returns went to Miami than any other city. Other top destinations were Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Houston.
The IRS has stepped up efforts to fight identity theft, but thieves are getting more aggressive, said the report by J. Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration. Last year, the IRS stopped more than $12 billion in fraudulent refunds from going to identity thieves, compared with $8 billion the year before.
“Identity theft continues to be a serious problem with devastating consequences for taxpayers and an enormous impact on tax administration,” George said in a statement. The fraud “erodes taxpayer confidence in the federal tax system.”
Thieves often steal Social Security numbers from people who don’t have to file tax returns, including the young, the old and people who have died, the report said. In other cases, thieves use stolen Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns before the legitimate taxpayer files.
The IRS, which takes pride in issuing quick refunds, often sends them out before employers are required to file forms documenting wages, the report said.
“The constantly evolving tactics used by scammers to commit identity theft continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS, and we take this issue very seriously,” the IRS said in a statement. “The IRS has a comprehensive and aggressive identity theft strategy that focuses on preventing refund fraud, investigating these crimes and assisting taxpayers victimized by it.”
Despite budget cuts, the agency said, agents have resolved more than 565,000 cases of identity theft this year, three times the number of cases resolved at the same time last year.
A separate report by George said the number of identity theft victims is on the rise as thieves get more aggressive.
Through June, the IRS identified 1.6 million victims whose identities were stolen during this year’s tax filing season, the report said. That compares with 1.2 million victims in 2012.
Many of these people didn’t realize they were victims until they submitted their returns only to learn from the IRS that someone else had already used their Social Security number to file and claim a refund.
The IRS does a good job of eventually identifying the proper owner of Social Security numbers, but the process can be lengthy, the report said. For cases closed between August 2011 and July 2012, it took an average of 312 days to resolve the case and issue a proper refund, the report said.
The IRS said it has resolved most of this year’s identity theft cases within 120 days.
Last year, the IRS issued 1.1 million refunds to people using stolen Social Security numbers, the inspector general’s report said. Those refunds totaled $3.6 billion. By comparison, the IRS issued $5.2 billion in refunds to people who stole Social Security numbers in 2011, the report said.
Additionally, the IRS issued 141,000 refunds last year to people using stolen taxpayer identification numbers, which are typically used by foreign citizens who earn money in the U.S. Those refunds totaled $385 million, the report said.
Florida is a big target of identity theft in part because of the large number of older residents living there. Older and younger people can be targets for identity theft because many don’t meet the income requirements to file a federal tax return.
Nearly 38,000 potentially fraudulent refunds, totaling $147 million, were sent to addresses in Miami, the report said.
Among individual homes, one address in Orlando received 580 tax refunds totaling $870,000, the report said. Another Orlando address received 291 refunds totaling $466,000.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has introduced a bill that would toughen criminal penalties for people who file fake tax returns under someone else’s name. The bill would also require the IRS to get legitimate taxpayers the refunds they’re due within 90 days.
“While these reports show that some progress is being made in reducing tax fraud, it’s also clear that there is still much to be done and there are still a number of improvements that need to be made to protect both taxpayers and the U.S. Treasury,” Nelson said.
Posted on November 25th, 2013 No comments
We are now entering the seventh week since Obamacare’s exchanges went live, and several big problems remain clear.
- First, the website where people are supposed to buy insurance — or be penalized by the IRS for not doing so — is still plagued by technical problems and security concerns.
- Second, despite hundreds of millions of dollars devoted to a Spanish-language Obamacare propaganda campaign, the Spanish-language Obamacare website hasn’t even been launched yet.
- And, most troubling, is that millions of Americans are now being notified that they will lose the health plans they were happy with, along with the doctors they know and trust — something President Obama promised would never happen under Obamacare, although recent revelations show his administration has known for at least three years this was inevitable.
All this means millions of Americans now have to shop for new health-insurance plans, but the websites they are supposed to buy insurance don’t work. In response, President Obama and his administration have steered people toward a 1-800 help line and in-person enrollment through Obamacare’s network of so-called “navigators.”
This is a troubling proposition for the American people who are now being forced into other Obamacare enrollment options that could make them more susceptible to fraud and personal identity theft. As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted last week, there is no uniform standard of background checks conducted on navigators, and nothing to prevent convicted felons from becoming navigators.
Americans know all too well the high personal and economic costs of fraud in our healthcare industry. For example, each year in Florida, we see hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars vanish into the hands of Medicare and Medicaid fraudsters, many of whom have found refuge from the American justice system in places like Cuba. And Hispanics in particular should be wary of entrusting just anyone to help them fill out government applications, as so many in our community have been victimized by so-called notarios, who take immigrants’ money and immigration paperwork, and then do nothing for them.
As Obamacare’s website failures push more people toward non-web enrollment options, the same kind of con artists who have been defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and immigrants will be inclined to do the same through Obamacare’s navigator network.
And as time goes on, we will inevitably see more cases of people fraudulently posing as navigators, collecting personal information and then exploiting innocent victims. And while some states like Florida have taken proactive steps to raise standards for aspiring navigators and toughen consumer protection safeguards, many states have not.
This is a recipe for people falling prey to fraud, identity theft or gross incompetence by those operating as Obamacare navigators.
It is unacceptable that President Obama is forcing the American people to blindly trust the federal government’s website security and its network of navigators to help them comply with Obamacare. As consumers are being pushed to shop for insurance through Obamacare, navigators and other non-online options, they proceed with great care and caution against fraudsters intending to do them harm.
Congress should also act, which is why I have introduced common-sense legislation to protect Americans from Obamacare-related identity theft committed by fraudulent navigators, crack down on fraudsters and raise background-check standards for people applying to be navigators.
While this is not a fool-proof solution to address Obamacare’s problems, it is one that will provide a greater degree of protection and relief to the people dealing with the Obamacare’s consequences. While I believe Obamacare as a whole should be repealed and replaced, until we can do so, we must protect our people from its flaws.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.
FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Following a two year investigation, the Broward Sheriff’s Office says it has busted a major identity theft crime ring operating in South Florida and throughout the state.
Eight people have been indicted on federal charges and six are in custody, according to BSO Sergeant Rich Rossman, of the Organized Retail Crime Unit.
“This was their business,” Rossman told CBS 4′s Carey Codd. “I get up and go to work for the Sheriff’s Office they get up commit identity theft, credit card fraud, just fraud in general.”
The ringleader, Rossman says, is Andrew Ware. Photos provided by BSO show Ware showing off his riches — cash, jewelry — along with an assault rifle at his feet.
“They’re showing off,” Rossman said. “They mention they’ve got other weapons.”
BSO says Ware and 5 others have been arrested — David Tilus, Alex Dontfred, Latanya Ware, Latonya Ware and Sherika Rowe. Investigators say they hope to arrest two others – Jaqwayn Henry and Fritznel Etienne. Rossman says the group is accused of stealing the identities of dozens of people and using credit cards in victim’s names.
The federal indictment says the majority of the crimes took place at WalMart store. Rossman says Ware and his group had inside help.
“They had people on the inside obtaining pertinent information — Social Security numbers, dates of birth all of the various things that would be necessary to commit identity theft, credit card fraud,” Rossman said.
Rossman says the group also committed tax fraud — filing phony tax returns — and in all brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Late last week BSO rounded up Ware and several others on federal charges including wire fraud. Sgt. Rossman says this case began as a routine fraud case two years ago then spiraled into a lengthy investigation.
“They’re real bad guys that we’ve just taken off the streets,” Rossman said.
Investigators say identity theft groups like this one are sophisticated and take time to take down and they warn everyone to safeguard their personal information.
“If these people get a hold of a Social (Security number), and a name and date of birth they can do a lot of damage,” Rossman said.
The suspects in the case are facing significant prison time if convicted.
Rossman says that identity theft remains a huge problem. Investigators offer a few tips — like protecting your passwords, shredding important documents and making sure you secure your wireless network at home. Also, when you use a public wireless network be careful of the websites you visit and don’t reveal any private information.
MIAMI – Federal authorities in South Florida say a weeklong sweep targeting identity theft-tax fraud crime has resulted in charges against 45 people in 30 separate cases.
Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer says the cases were investigated by the South Florida Identity Theft Tax Fraud Strike Force. That unit includes federal agencies as well as state and local law enforcement.
Ferrer says those charged were responsible for at least 22,000 stolen or compromised identities. Many were insiders that used jobs at places such as health care providers, restaurants, schools and prisons to gain access to the identities.
The identities were used in attempts to claim more than $38 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Of that amount, about $11.5 million was actually paid out in these latest cases.
A Miami cop who stole 1,000 identities from a police database to score fraudulent income-tax refunds was found guilty in federal court Thursday.
Malinsky Bazile, 28, collected about $140,000 from the scam in 2011-12.
Bazile, who joined the Miami Police Department in 2008, was immediately taken into custody while he awaits sentencing.
Bazile’s prosecution marked the first time a South Florida law enforcement officer was convicted of identity theft and tax-refund fraud, a crime that has spread across the state.
The 12-person federal jury in Fort Lauderdale took less than one hour to convict Bazile, whose trial started Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Berger prosecuted Bazile’s case, which was investigated by an FBI anti-corruption task force, including Miami internal affairs detectives.
Before his arrest earlier this year, Bazile had helped the FBI target another Miami cop, Vital Frederick, suspected of committing the same type of crime. Frederick, 27, was standing trial this week in Miami federal court, with closing arguments on Thursday. A jury will begin deliberations Friday.
Authorities Accuse South Florida Man of Identity Theft, Years After He Won $2 Million Verdict Against City of Sweetwater
Federal agents have hauled in 44 people who the government claims participated in a massive identity theft and tax fraud scheme across South Florida. One of them has been in the public eye before – Peter Michael Daniel.
He won millions of dollars in a judgment against the city of Sweetwater and on Friday his parents told NBC 6 Daniel hasn’t done anything wrong.
Daniel won a $2 million dollar verdict against the City of Sweetwater. As a 19-year-old a decade ago he claimed police, who thought he had stolen another cop’s jet ski, took him to a cell and beat him so badly he suffered head trauma, a lacerated liver and spleen, and needed emergency surgery.
Now federal agents and prosecutors have charged Daniel, 29, with identity theft. The indictment says he committed device fraud for his unauthorized possession of at least 15 other people’s Social Security numbers.
“There’s a lot of allegations. He will have his day in court,” his mother Lourdes Lima said.
Daniel’s parents said he was inside their west Miami-Dade home today, but couldn’t talk about the allegations. They said their son is completely innocent and believed the information he had was part of a legitimate business.
“He’s not in jail. He’s not in jail. He’s OK, he’s fine and he will be fine,” his stepfather Juan Lima said. “As soon as we get everything straightened out he will be fine.”
The parents also said anything Daniel had was given to him by someone close to them they trusted.
Daniel told the magistrate judge at his bond hearing that he was out of funds and a public defender was initially assigned to him.
His mother called NBC 6 after a crew left their home to say that separate charges the county brought against him were dropped last year and they ultimately expect the same in federal court.
The U.S. attorney’s office said that the ID theft and tax fraud ring was widespread and did significant damage.
Posted on August 6th, 2013 No comments
What is FACTA?
Signed into law on December 4, 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) is federal legislation aimed at the prevention and penalization of consumer fraud and identity theft. Administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FACTA Disposal Rule has been in effect since June 1, 2005. The Disposal Rule puts in place requirements for proper document disposal and destruction, and recognizes the problems that can and do arise when private information is disposed of in an irresponsible manner.
Who is affected by FACTA?
FACTA applies to virtually all persons and businesses in the United States, mandating that “any person who maintains or otherwise possesses consumer information, or any compilation of consumer information, for a business purpose must properly dispose of such information by taking reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to or use of the information in connection with its disposal.”
Under FACTA, consumer information is defined as personal identifying materials which extend beyond just a person’s name, including:
- a social security number
- a driver’s license number
- a phone number or e-mail address
- a physical address
To comply with the FACTA Disposal Rule, businesses and individuals must take “reasonable measures” to ensure such information does not fall into the wrong hands. Reasonable measures include the “burning, pulverizing, or shredding” of paper documents, such as the contracting of a third-party engaged in the document destruction business to dispose of confidential information in a manner consistent with the Act.
Failure to abide by FACTA may result in stiff penalties. Victims are entitled to actual damages sustained due to incompliance; they may also seek statutory damages, and, in some cases, file class-action suits. Federal and state authorities are also empowered to bring legal enforcement actions against businesses that violate the Act.
Posted on June 26th, 2013 No comments
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – David Sanders is a victim of identity theft. He told us, “They had made a credit card with my number and name on it.” He says it didn’t take long for him to find out someone was using his identity and spending his money in another state. “I got an email that I had a charge from a Kohl’s in Dallas, Texas of all places, and I was right here in Delray Beach.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, South Florida is number one on the list for identity theft complaints, which includes Palm Beach County. Port Saint Lucie ranks number 7.
Reggie Montgomery, a retired police officer, has advice on how to protect your identity.
“Make sure that their wallet does not get out of their sight, number one.” He says don’t give out your date of birth or social security number to someone over the phone.
“If you go into your doctor’s office, they don’t need your social security number. You see it on every form in every doctor’s office, they don’t need it. They have your insurance information,” said Montgomery.
When you throw out personal information in the garbage, such as credit cards or canceled checks, shred them.
He says the best shredder is the cross shredder, which makes the paper look like confetti.
Montgomery says “And when you throw the shredding out, put liquid on it so that nobody is going to go through it and try to put it back together.”
You can also protect yourself with the right mailbox. “Have a locking mailbox, make sure that nobody can get into your mailbox, that’s another way people get your information,” he said.
Posted on June 26th, 2013 No comments
U.S. prosecutors announced fraud and other charges Wednesday against eight alleged members of an international cybercrime ring that the government said hacked into the computers of more than a dozen leading financial institutions and the U.S. military’s payroll service.
Prosecutors said the scheme to steal millions from customer accounts was led by Oleksiy Sharapka, 33, of Kiev, Ukraine, who remained at large along with a second Ukrainian national. The conspiracy is alleged to have begun about the same time Sharapka was deported from the U.S. in 2012 after serving time in federal prison in Massachusetts.
Four of the defendants had been arrested by Wednesday morning, including key associates in New York, Massachusetts and Georgia accused of using stolen identities to try to cash out the hacked accounts, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.
The government said financial institutions whose computer networks were hacked included Aon Hewitt, Automated Data Processing Inc., Citibank, E-Trade, Electronic Payments Inc., Fundtech Holdings LLC, iPayment Inc., JPMorgan Chase Bank, Nordstrom Bank, PayPal, TD Ameritrade, TIAA-CREF, USAA, Veracity Payment Solutions Inc. and the payroll arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Cybercriminals penetrated some of our most trusted financial institutions as part of a global scheme that stole money and identities from people in the United States,” Fishman said.
The ring targeted electronic payment systems of the various institutions in a bid to steal at least $15 million from U.S. customers, prosecutors said.
The criminal complaint notes that some of the efforts to steal funds from customer accounts were blocked.
It does not make clear the number of hacked firms from which the defendants were able to successfully transfer money, or how the defendants were able to hack into the computer networks of so many major financial institutions.
Once inside the computer networks, the defendants and their conspirators sought to divert money from customer accounts to prepaid debit cards that they controlled, prosecutors said. As part of the scheme, cards were obtained in the names of people whose identities had been stolen.
Stolen identities were also used to file fraudulent tax returns with the IRS seeking refunds.
Crews of individuals known as “cashers” were employed in New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois and elsewhere to withdraw the stolen funds. The government said the majority of the proceeds were distributed to managers, including to leaders of the conspiracy overseas.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit identity theft.
Those under arrest by Wednesday morning were Oleg Pidtergerya, 49, of New York City’s Brooklyn borough; Robert Dubuc, 40, of Malden, Mass.; and Andrey Yarmolitskiy, 41, of Atlanta. They were identified as crew managers. Also arrested was Ilya Ostapyuk, 31, of Brooklyn, who is accused of helping move the proceeds of the fraud.
Ostapyuk and Pidtergerya appeared in federal court in Newark Wednesday afternoon. Ostapyuk was released after putting his home in New York City’s Staten Island borough up as collateral, and Pidtergerya was ordered held.
“My client is innocent,” said Igor Niman, Ostapyuk’s lawyer.
A public defender representing Pidtergerya declined to comment.
Yarmolitskiy was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport but fell ill and had surgery Wednesday, authorities said. His court date will be scheduled. Dubuc is scheduled to appear in court in Boston.
Lamar Taylor, 37, of Salem, Mass., and Richard Gunderson, 46, of Brooklyn, were being sought.
The second Ukrainian being sought was identified as Leonid Yanovitsky, 38, also of Kiev, who prosecutors said helped Sharapka.