Posted on June 25th, 2013 No comments
Miami resident Cristobal Raul Puig was sentenced to 31 months in federal prison yesterday for his role in a Baptist Health South Florida tax fraud scheme.
According to justice.gov, Puig had previously pled guilty to one count of possessing 15 or more Social Security numbers of other persons that he paired with names and dates of birth for one count of attempting to impersonate another person. Puig had acquired the hospital patient names, dates of birth, social security numbers and addresses from a Baptist Health System’s West Kendall employee.
Puig then used the patient data (he was in possession of a list of 20 total) to file unauthorized income tax returns. He was also arrested in 2012 for theft. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurice A. Johnson.
Baptist Health also owns South Miami Hospital, which has experienced its own breach troubles of lately. Florida in general is having serious problems with patient data security and perhaps this sentence will deter would-be hackers and thieves from stealing patient data.
Foundations Recovery Network Breach
Foundations Recovery Network, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., alerted an unknown number of patients that an employee laptop containing patient names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers had been stolen. The device was password-protected but there didn’t appear to be any technical safeguards such as encryption. Here is the organization’s breach notification letter:
I am writing on behalf of Foundations Recovery Network to inform you of a recent privacy incident concerning your personal information. On Saturday, June 15, one of our employees informed us that she had been the victim of a burglary during the early morning hours on June 15 at approximately 2:45 a.m. and that her company laptop had been stolen. The laptop contained certain aspects of patient information which she needed as part of her role with our company. The employee reported the theft immediately to law enforcement authorities. We understand that the theft was one of several that took place in her neighborhood that night, so we do not believe the thief specifically targeted her or the laptop.
At this time, we do not know whether the information on the laptop has been accessed. It is important to note that the information is password protected. However, because the safety and security of your information is our utmost priority, we wanted to contact you out of an abundance of caution and make you aware of the situation. The potentially disclosed information may include your personal information (such as name, date of birth, address, telephone number and social security number) and medical information (such as diagnosis — the majority of which were listed in numeric medical code only, level of care, date of service, and health insurance information). We sincerely regret that this incident occurred.
Even though we have no reason to believe that your information has been accessed by anyone outside our organization at this time, and we do not believe any of your financial information is included on the stolen laptop, we want to make sure you are aware of the incident and have resources available to protect your personal information. Therefore, we have contracted with Experian to provide to you a free one year membership in Experian’ se ProtectMyIDe Alert. This product helps detect possible misuse of your personal information and provides you with identity protection services focused on immediate identification and resolution of identity theft. You may sign up for this service by following the instructions on the last page of this letter in Attachment B. You will be able to access this offer at no cost to you until October 31, 2013. See the attachments to this letter for more information regarding enrollment in Experian’ se ProtectMyIDe Alert and other measures you may want to take.
Again, maintaining the integrity of confidential information is extremely important to us. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this incident has caused for you. Please be assured that we will keep you informed of any developments in the investigation that may be of importance to you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 888-312-3310.
Information from PHIPrivacy.net was used in this report.
Posted on May 3rd, 2013 No comments
At some point between the time she disembarked from a recent cruise in Miami and returned to Carmel, Ind., someone decided to go shopping with Jody Tzucker’s credit card. “They bought cigars and other odd things in Miami,” says Tzucker, a retired manager for a nonprofit association.
She suspects that the criminals may have skimmed her Visa account information while she was filling up her gas tank in South Florida. Or maybe not. Nowadays, hackers don’t even have to see your credit card to access the information on it. They can scan it from a safe distance.
One of the latest threats against travelers is invisible and silent: wireless attacks that siphon your credit card number, personal information and passwords. Anything with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, including your passport or a credit card, can be read from afar. Thieves can also mine valuable data from your smartphone when it automatically logs on to a WiFi network.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to thwart these wireless assaults, including new luggage products and common-sense steps that protect your devices and credit cards.
As it turned out, Tzucker’s card didn’t have an RFID chip. And she was lucky. Before the cigar-loving thieves could finish their shopping excursion, her bank’s fraud detection algorithm tagged her purchases as suspicious, disabled her account and refunded the fraudulent transactions. And that may be one of the most effective solutions — having a bank that can stop fraud quickly and cover any losses. After the incident, Tzucker also switched to using a prepaid debit card when she traveled, which contains no personal information.
But others haven’t been so fortunate. Nearly half of all travelers use their smartphones to access the Internet when they’re on vacation, according to a recent survey by security firm Kaspersky Lab. One-third of phone users store their passwords to online accounts, including bank and social networks, on their devices. While any phone can be a target, the most vulnerable wireless devices run on the Android operating system, according to Kaspersky.
The luggage industry offers one possible solution: new backpacks and suitcases with protective linings to shield your IDs and wireless devices.
This month, luggage manufacturer Briggs & Riley, based in Hauppage, N.Y., will add RFID-blocking pockets to its new @work briefcase and bag collection. The models offer two pockets with electromagnetic shielding, one for IDs and passports, the other for a smartphone or a tablet computer. The black ballistic nylon cases, priced from $129 to $479, are designed to appeal to privacy-conscious business travelers.
Richard Krulik, Briggs & Riley’s chief executive, says that his company is constantly adapting to the concerns and demands of travelers, something he refers to as “reality engineering.”
“Increasingly, travelers are coming to rely on their luggage to keep more than their belongings safe,” he adds. “They need protection for their personal information and data.”
Escape the Wolf, a travel security company based in Virginia Beach, is also introducing a product this month, aimed at leisure travelers and called the Zero Trace Two-Day Backpack. It offers a large interior compartment to store any electronics you want to protect from prying eyes or scans. The $199 backpack, which will be part of Escape the Wolf’s line of security-enhancing luggage, is minimalist on the outside but sophisticated on the inside for a reason, says Clinton Emerson, the company’s chief executive.
“Fancy gets you mugged,” he says. “Fancy gets stolen.”
A closer look at this technology suggests that the best strategy for preventing data theft when you’re on the road is a combination of electromagnetic shields and common sense. A series of tests conducted in 2011 by Consumer Reports concludes that products with electronic shielding can partially block the signal from a chip in a credit card.
Only credit cards with RFID chips — so-called “chip and signature” or “chip and PIN” cards — are vulnerable to scans. Most credit cards in the United States don’t use this technology at present, although it’s gaining some traction, particularly among corporate travelers.
Wireless devices left in the pouches would run down the battery searching for a signal, and security experts say that an equally effective way to prevent someone from accessing them is to power down the device and remove the battery. However, that’s not an option with the most popular wireless devices, such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which don’t have an easily removable battery.
Experts say that making sure the WiFi settings on your smartphone or tablet are set so that they don’t automatically connect to any wireless network, and not storing passwords or credit card numbers on your phone, is an equally effective way to make sure hackers don’t access your data and steal your identity, or your money.
But luggage with electromagnetic shielding can’t hurt, either. It makes your information a less desirable mark. Hackers and ID thieves prefer easy targets, which come from unprotected wireless devices and credit cards emitting a clear, easy-to-intercept signal.
In a world of invisible and often unknown security threats, the new bags may make travelers such as Linda Snow feel a little safer. Snow, an actress who lives in Denver, says that many of her friends have had their identities stolen, some of them while traveling. “I’m more careful with how I handle my ID and phone,” she says. Now she’s thinking of upgrading her luggage, too.
Posted on May 2nd, 2013 No comments
POMPANO BEACH — A would-be robber shot to death by his intended victim this week was a Miami man with a lengthy criminal history, the Broward Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
A resident of Conch Key Villas in Pompano Beach had arrived home just before 5:15 a.m. Tuesday when he encountered Osner Louis, 29, near his garage, the Sheriff’s Office said. The gun went off during a struggle, killing Louis, the agency said.
Louis had been arrested dozens of times since 1999, and served several prison stints, including in 2007 for aggravated assault, state records show. Prior cases in which he pleaded guilty or was convicted included grand theft in 2003, larceny and battery in 2001 and cocaine possession in 2000.
In a telephone interview, Nathan May, 29, told the Sun Sentinel he was the resident involved in Tuesday’s shooting. May called the shooting self-defense.
Posted on May 1st, 2013 No comments
Miami is known for many things –natural beauty, beautiful people, great weather and South Beach. That aside, it is also the fraud capital, not only in terms of Medicare and Medicaid, but in mortgage fraud, identity theft, and potentially in the area of vendor fraud.
Often I have found that fraud discussions and seminars seem to relate to the aforementioned. I have attended many seminars and no one focuses on what I believe is the most crucial potential for fraud that exists –approved vendors sitting in vendor master files. These are vendors you use every day, many who are legitimate and provide excellent and timely services. However, when I ask financial or supply chain managers about the number of active vendors they have or what they know about their vendors’ potential undisclosed relationships and related conflicts, I typically get the “deer in the headlights” stare or an off the cuff response.
Once a fraudulent vendor gets into the accounts payable system, it is like a Trojan horse or computer virus that upon release could cause havoc. Losses due to misappropriations may cost companies hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, not to mention loss of reputation and or career for those executives who allowed this to occur. Even worse, it often occurs in plain sight, no back alley deals or brown paper bag brush bys. Everyone knows the vendor and often uses them as the “ people who come to our aid at all hours of the day or night. They are the go to people that get the job done.”
While they may be a trustworthy loyal vendor, do you really know who they are? Do you know if they have relationships with your other vendors or employees? Do they have related companies? Have you even looked to see if the three bidders (in a three bid process you obtained to protect your company) are related and the bid is rigged? Proper and thorough up-front vetting can be used to detect and prevent these problems.
Accordingly, organizations need a robust, vendor on-boarding process which thoroughly and completely requires vendors to submit to an in-depth review in order to identify potential conflicts with existing employees and management of the organization with whom the vendor is trying to do business.
Pertinent data is entered by the vendor and then is sent out through various public databases; concurrently, information is obtained allowing management to make an intelligent decision regarding whether to engage the vendor.
Not only does this improve internal controls, but also identifies conflicts before a vendor is on-boarded while highlighting other anomaly data and improper relationship issues. In some systems, the vendor pays a fee to do business with the organization; in essence, it is a zero cost proposition to the entity choosing to use it!
Our experience shows what well intentioned and highly educated managers, in an effective if not excellent control environment, can often leave themselves and their organization vulnerable to fraudulent vendors if they don’t know what they don’t know. In this case what you don’t know can really hurt you and your organization!
Vendors beware! Companies know thy vendors…
Run to support marathon victims free and open to public.
Members of the Baptist Health Brickell Run Club will be holding a silent run Tuesday night as a gesture of support for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Runners will gather at 7 p.m. at the Fortune International Parking Lot at 1300 Brickell Avenue for the 3.5 mile run, which is free and open to the public.
Baptist Health will be providing bottles of water for all the runners, who are encouraged to wear white or past running event shirts. Special Boston Marathon mock bibs are also being made for runners to wear.
The club holds the event every Tuesday and generally gets between 300-400 runners, but are expected as many as 1,000 in light of Monday’s tragedy in Boston, event organizer Frankie Ruiz said.
Ruiz, who is also a co-founder of the Miami Marathon, said he was shocked by the bombings in Boston, which killed three and injured several others.
“I never would have thought it would happen at the finish line of a race like this,” Ruiz said Tuesday. “That race means a lot so to see the tragedy take place in that scenario, it’s a bit tougher to swallow.”
Ruiz said he knew many runners competing Monday through the Miami event, which is an official qualifier or the Boston Marathon.
“For many people, to make it to Boston is a dream come true, it gives a purpose to their running,” he said. “I guess you can call it the holy grail of running, one of the most competitive ones.”
He said organizers of the Miami Marathon have always had security measures in place for the event, and have had discussions about the type of incident that happened in Boston, but may refine and adjust their security plans in the wake of the tragedy.
No matter what, Ruiz said, the sport will continue to prosper.
“Running itself is just going to be that much stronger,” Ruiz said. “A tragedy like this, people are just going to stand up to it.
“This doesn’t stop us, we’re gonna keep doing what we do.”
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A Miami woman was found guilty on Monday in a Miami courtroom for a tax refund scam that enabled her to receive thousands of dollars in fraudulent refunds from the government.
Prosecutor said 30-year old Natoya Mashea Handy used stolen identities of past or current inmates to submit phony federal tax returns.
Handy was found with 15 social security numbers, names, and dates of birth belonging to people who were incarcerated in the state of Florida. Prosecutor said she used 17 stolen social security numbers to file fraudulent taxes for the 2011 tax year. Each of the tax returns received hundreds of dollars in a refund, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
She was convicted of one count of access device fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
Handy’s sentence is scheduled for June 24.
On the same summer day that an Indiana scalper sold a $1,000 pair of counterfeit Miami Heat playoff tickets to a Coral Springs man, he was arrested at AmericanAirlines Arena for selling fake $600 tickets to undercover Miami-Dade detectives, authorities say. Tony McKibben, 44, extradited from the Hoosier State, was in Broward County court Monday morning to answer to the resulting grand theft charge.
Tax Day is no longer just a deadline for citizens to rush and file their returns. It’s now a day for members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike —to file legislation or announce ways to prevent an estimated $5 billion in tax-identification fraud, which is particularly virulent in Florida and especially South Florida.
The effort by local lawmakers is nothing new, nor is the fact that the measures have died year-after-year in a do-nothing Congress.
On Monday, Miami-area Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Garcia and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all promoted legislation to put an end to the practice. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson announced a bill last week.
“Something needs to be done,” said Jon Simpkins, a Miami-Dade businessman who appeared with his wife, a tax-ID fraud victim, at Garcia’s press conference.
It took the Internal Revenue Service until April 8 to supply the family their tax-refund money from last year — a week before this year’s tax-filing deadline.
“I’m surprised they haven’t fixed this yet,” Simpkins said, detailing the delays and difficulties of just getting the IRS to do its job.
But the delay in fixing the growing problem isn’t just a window into the problems with the IRS. It’s an example of a broken Congress that struggles to accomplish the most-basic of tasks — including an issue members of all parties agree on: Stopping fraud.
Last year, for instance, Sen. Nelson’s crackdown bill stalled and died in the Senate because leadership said it didn’t want to deal with any new tax issues or tax reform — except for figuring out what to do with the then-expiring payroll tax cuts and the so-called Bush tax cuts.
So even though Nelson’s bill was more of a fraud-fighting proposal, it was considered tax legislation. And it was bottled up by the advent of the so-called “fiscal cliff” and budget-sequester negotiations. The bill could face another challenge this year: the banking-and-credit industry.
Nelson wants to make it tougher for thieves to get tax refunds electronically direct-deposited on prepaid debit cards. The cards have become increasingly common ways for regular citizens to get their returns credited to a bank account electronically. But, because the cards can be purchased by phone or internet and leave few fingerprints, scammers use them as well.
Tax ID fraud is simple and lucrative. Thieves purchase Social Security numbers and names of people on the black market. Then they download tax forms electronically, plug in the stolen information and file false returns. They request refunds be sent to prepaid cards or, less often, by check.
The scam is usually pulled in January and February. Most citizens file weeks or months later. If someone used their information on a tax form, the IRS then refuses to instantly pay the citizen as it did the scammer. Victims then wait for months or, in Simpkin’s case, almost a year for their refund.
Broward Sheriff Detective Mitch Gordon warned that cracking down on debit cards won’t stop the crime entirely. But he said the cards are a good way to steal.
“One time, we had one guy who sat at a Western Union machine for six hours just putting in debit cards, putting in debit cards,” said Gordon, who estimated the office has had 400 complaints this year.
The Miami area is the top tax-related identity theft area in the nation, and Florida has nine of the top 10 cities for the fraud.
South Florida accounted for 35,914 identity-theft complaints in 2012.
“It has happened to so many people,” said Rep. Garcia. “It happened to me.”
Garcia’s bill isn’t as sweeping as Nelson’s. It would change the law to forbid the printing of a person’s entire Social Security Number on a W-2 tax form, a major primary source for thieves who obtained them from unscrupulous employees or employers.
Wasserman-Schultz, a Democrat like Garcia, wants to increase penalties and make federal prosecutors prioritize tax ID cases.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, is co-sponsoring both bills.
“These bills focus much needed attention to identity theft, a problem that is clearly not a victimless crime,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
Another Republican Rep., Mario Diaz-Balart, hasn’t studied the legislation but has held IRS officials to account in budget hearings. He tacked on an amendment to a budget bill that requires the agency to better track tax ID theft cases.
With such bipartisan support for such an important topic, Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said she hopes something will pass. “It seems like a no-brainer,” she said.
Posted on April 15th, 2013 No comments
MIAMI (CBS4) – For the first time, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate unveiled how they plan to stop a growing national scam that’s stolen billions of dollars in tax money from Uncle Sam and legitimate taxpayers alike: tax refund fraud.
It’s the latest twist on the growing identity theft problem facing consumers here and across the country.
Critics say red tape and a massive federal agency, the IRS, delayed preventing even more losses this tax season because of conflicting marching orders from Washington lawmakers.
As CBS Miami has reported for a while now, several years ago Congress began mandating the IRS make it easier to file tax returns from home computers.
But what some critics say they didn’t realize was it would also make it easier for identity thieves to file phony returns too.
On Wednesday, Senate lawmakers finally started talking about new fixes that some critics say have already taken way too long.
“According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, we are losing over $5 billion dollars each year to the crime and now the problem is getting worse,” said Chairman Sen. Bill Nelson.
Facing a new filing deadline next week with hundreds of thousands of victims nationwide still waiting for last years’ tax refunds, Washington lawmakers are running out of time to put the tax ID thieves out of business.
Formal hearings by the Senate’s Special Committee on aging also turned the spotlight on our CBS Miami investigations into the growing scam which is now in its’ 3rd year.
“CBS, Channel 4, WFOR has really made this a cause celeb as they have tried to alert people to what is happening and these kinds of instances that our public is getting fleeced and in the process…the taxpayer is getting fleeced,” Nelson testified.
One of South Florida’s latest victims, Weston resident Leonardo Fernandez, agrees.
He just found out his wife’s’ tax refund was stolen after her tax return was rejected by the IRS. He says somebody else used her name and ID to file a phony return.
“It’s terrible, they rejected because they find out somebody else fill it out, the Income Tax paper with her name,” Fernandez said.
To keep the problem from getting even worse in the future, a series of new proposals were just filed by Senate Democrats including Bill Nelson.
Under the plan, the IRS would be required to process legitimate refunds to victims within 90 days.
It expands the use of special personal security numbers for taxpayers, and allows us to opt-out of electronic, computerized-filing.
The use of credit cards for direct refund deposits would be restricted along with multiple refunds into the same bank accounts.
A similar bill was also recently filed in the U-S House of Representatives.
The IRS estimates losses could exceed $21 billion dollars over just the next 5 years with Florida expected to remain the top spot in the nation for tax refund scams.
Bill sponsors hope these latest proposals can be passed quickly and signed into law.
But they’ve also got the budget, immigration reform and gun control to work on.
So there’s probably little chance Congress will be able to take action to fix the problem anytime soon.
And as this years’ April 15th deadline approaches, the latest group of taxpayers are now be learning their Tax ID’s have been stolen and their tax refunds have ended up in the hands of ID thieves.
And the long wait will begin all over again for a year or longer to get their legitimate refunds back from the IRS.
For more information on tax ID fraud, visit these government links:
Posted on April 15th, 2013 No comments
An epidemic of tax-related identity theft continues to plague the Internal Revenue Service despite efforts by the agency and law enforcement officials to combat the fraud, witnesses told a Senate panel Wednesday.
“We are losing $5 billion each year to this crime, and now the problem is getting worse,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Criminals use stolen personal information to file fraudulent tax returns, usually in January, before the real taxpayers have a chance to file. By the time the victims send in their returns, it’s too late: The IRS already has mailed refund checks to the identity thieves. It can take months – even years – for the IRS to untangle the mess and send the taxpayers the refunds they’re owed.
Nine of the 10 U.S. cities hit hardest by the scam are in Florida. The Miami metropolitan area tops the list, with 35,914 cases of tax-related identity theft reported last year and the highest per capita rate of complaints, 645 per 100,000 residents.
Miami was followed by Atlanta, which had 12,992 complaints, Tampa, Fla., with 9,805, and Orlando, Fla., with 4,991.
Nationwide, cases of tax-related identity theft surged 650 percent from 2008 to 2012. In 2011, thieves filed 1.5 million undetected fraudulent tax returns and received $5.2 billion in refunds, according to an audit last year by the Department of the Treasury’s inspector general.
Witness Marcy Hossli, 57, of Lake Worth, Fla., has been a victim of identity theft through tax fraud three years in a row.
“I should never have to go through anything like this, nor should anyone else,” Hossli said. “I feel violated. It’s hard to concentrate in work. I am stressed constantly.”
Hossli told senators she still is waiting for her 2012 tax refund. She suffers from cancer and owes $4,000 in medical bills. “I really need the money,” she said.
Senators expressed frustration that the IRS hasn’t been able to do a better job at catching fraud even though criminals often use the same addresses to file multiple returns.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said thieves used the same address in Lansing, Mich., to file 2,137 tax returns, and they received $3.3 million in refunds. An address in Chicago was used to steal $900,000 in refunds through almost 800 fraudulent returns, Collins said.
“Criminal gangs have figured out that it’s cheaper and easier for them to steal taxpayers’ identities and hijack their refunds than it is to traffic in drugs, rob banks or fence stolen property,” Collins said.
“The IRS has an obligation that obviously they’re not meeting,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “How in the world can there not be a system in place that the IRS could not catch that they’re sending 2,000 refunds to the same address?”
Tax refund thieves commonly target senior citizens, as well as low-income people and students, who might not be required to file returns.
The audit by the Treasury Department’s inspector general estimated that 76,000 senior citizens likely were victims of tax fraud identity theft in 2010, resulting in $374 million in fraudulent tax refunds.
Victims often have their identities stolen by corrupt employees at nursing homes and hospitals, Kathryn Keneally, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s tax division, said in her testimony before the committee. In other cases, criminals take names from public death lists to file tax returns, she said.
“For the public the risk is clear,” Keneally said. Such crimes “can and do arise in any setting where the lure of fast money puts at risk personal identifying information, including at state agencies, student loan providers, the military, prisons, companies servicing Medicaid programs – the list is growing all too long.”
Postal workers have been compromised, robbed and in one case killed in order to steal refund checks, she said.
Prosecuting tax-refund identity theft is a national priority, she added.
Legislation Nelson introduced this week would increase jail time and fines for people convicted of tax-related identity theft and direct the IRS to close identity theft cases within 90 days. Last year, it took an average of 196 days for the IRS to close such cases.
The delays are unacceptable, Nelson said. He said victims of identity theft shouldn’t have to wait six months for their refunds, much less two years, as at least one woman in Parkland, Fla., had to do.
“Many Americans rely on getting those tax refunds back so they can pay their bills,” he added.
Nelson’s bill, co-sponsored by fellow Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles Schumer of New York, also would ensure that victims don’t have to explain their plight to different IRS employees every time they contact the agency. Instead, the IRS would give each victim a single point of contact to help track the case.
Other provisions include restrictions that would make it harder for thieves to load stolen refunds onto prepaid cards, language that allows identity theft victims to opt out of electronic filing and prohibitions on printing Social Security numbers on Medicare ID cards and communications.