Posted on October 21st, 2012 No comments
MIAMI – Tax refund fraud has kept federal prosecutors in South Florida busy as the crime continues to grow in popularity. Just this year, two former NFL players pleaded guilty to taking part in tax refund fraud.
“Identity theft, tax refund scams are really no less than a tsunami that is barreling towards us,” said U.S. attorney Wifredo Ferre.
For victims like South Dade’s Lauri King, waiting for help from the Internal Revenue Service is getting harder. She still doesn’t know when the agency may get around to mailing out her refund.
“I think they are overwhelmed,” King said of the IRS. “I think this is something they never planned for, never expected to happen.”
King filed her tax refund seven months ago. She expected to get her refund a few months later, but continues to wait for the IRS to finally act.
“Just two weeks ago, I mentioned to my husband, did we ever get our IRS refund and he said, ‘No,’” King said. “So we called and actually got to talk with a person and she informed us that we had an issue with identity theft.”
Miami has the highest fraudulent tax return rate in the nation according to Ferre.
“Over 74,000 potentially fraudulent returns filed in Miami resulting in $280 million in bogus returns in 2010,” Ferre said. “The city of Miami per capita numbers of fraudulent returns based on id theft was 46 times the national average…this is absolutely outrageous.”
While the IRS investigates an estimated $5.2 billion dollars worth of phony tax refunds nationwide, tax payers like Lauri King are running out of patience while she waits for her tax refund.
“I feel like I’m nobody; I feel like whatever happens, happens,” King said. “It’s a very defeating feeling, you work all year long, you’re one little bit of change you get can back to have a little freedom with. Nope, just a name, just a number that’s all.”
Several weeks ago CBS4 News asked the IRS how many identity theft victims were still waiting to get their tax refunds? The agency said it’s not releasing that information publicly and wouldn’t even let CBS Miami go inside its Plantation Customer Service Center with a camera to talk with taxpayers who are critical of the way the agency’s treating them.
The agencies local customer service offices are so crowded, warning signs are often posted before noon that they don’t have any more time to meet with taxpayers.
“I don’t see anything to assist them with getting a refund or getting the credit processed and going foward in any kind of expedited basis,” Miami tax lawyer Kevin Packman said.
Packman said federal prosecutors are making progress arresting the scammers, but he believes more needs to be done to help the victims and warns victims like Lauri, “Could still be dealing with this somewhere for 12-18 months.”
CBS4’s Al Sunshine asked if he’s heard of people dealing with this for more than a year? Packman answered “Yes, definitely.”
The IRS insists it’s changing procedures, tightening up its electronic processing systems to avoid more scams next season. But what about getting tax fraud victims’ legitimate refunds back this year?
In a prepared statement, the IRS said:
“Refund times can vary depending on the complexity of the case, and we understand the frustration that taxpayer may have that have been identity theft victims. Along with taking steps toward faster resolution of identity theft cases, we are continuously improving the way we track and report on the status of all identity theft cases. We believe these improvements will reduce the time to work identity theft cases in coming filing seasons so that honest taxpayers will receive their refunds sooner. Additionally, better tracking and reporting means that we can spot – and correct – any flaws in the system more quickly.” – Michael Dobzinski, IRS Media Relations Specialist
Still, with bills mounting and the holiday shopping season right around the corner, victims like Lauri think seven months is way too long for the IRS to get her refund back to her.
“The working public needs help to resolve issues like this,” King said. “It’s hard enough going to work every day and now you’re having your money stolen on top of it and then you have to prove your identity to make sure you’re the correct person. I don’t know how far it’s gone, is it just the IRS check, is it other things? Where does it stop, how does the IRS stop it from happening again? Where does it end, does it happen next year, does it happen a year after that?”
A recent Inspector Generals’ report warned these scams could cost Uncle Sam $21 billion dollars in fraudulent tax refunds over the next 5 years. The IRS continues to ask victims to be patient while they wait for their legitimate refund checks to be mailed out.
But it still declines comment on what it’s doing to make sure next year taxpayer refunds end up with the people who earned them, and not the criminals who’ve been so successful stealing them.
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Posted on July 10th, 2008 No comments
A state grand jury has indicted a former employee of the Commerce Bank branch in Mount Laurel on charges she provided personal information of bank customers to individuals who then stole the customers’ identities.
Jennifer Mullner, 22, of Hammonton, a former loan services representative at the bank branch; her boyfriend, William Roman, 21, of Galloway; and Anthony Wood, also known as Anthony Bickerstaff, 44, of Philadelphia, were each charged with conspiracy, computer criminal activity and identity theft, which are second-degree offenses.
The indictment alleges that between March 1 and Oct. 30, 2007, Mullner accessed at least 240 bank documents containing customer information, including loan information and account numbers, and unlawfully provided the information to Wood.
Mullner is also accused of providing documents to Roman on two occasions, who then forwarded the information to Wood, according to the indictment. Authorities say Roman was paid $250 for his involvement.
The indictment said the defendants stole the identities of at least five victims and obtained more than $100,000 in merchandise and services.
New Jersey State Police arrested Wood on Feb. 26. He was released from Burlington County Jail on $100,000 bail.
By MELISSA HAYES (Burlington County Times)
Posted on May 8th, 2008 No comments
IRS Warns of New E-Mail and Telephone Scams Using the IRS Name ; Advance Payment Scams Starting
Updated April 21, 2008
Some people have received phone calls about the economic stimulus payments, in which the caller impersonates an IRS employee. The caller asks the taxpayer for their Social Security and bank account numbers, claiming that the IRS needs the information to complete the processing of the taxayer’s payment. In reality, the IRS uses the information contained on the taxpayer’s tax return to process stimulus payments, rather than contacting taxpayers by phone or e-mail.
An e-mail claiming to come from the IRS about the “2008 Economic Stimulus Refund” tells recipients to click on a link to fill out a form, apparently for direct deposit of the payment into their bank account. This appears to be an identity theft scheme to obtain recipients’ personal and financial information so the scammers can clean out their victims’ financial accounts. In reality, taxpayers do not have to fill out a separate form to get a stimulus payment or have it directly deposited; all they had to do was file a tax return and provide direct deposit information on the return.
IR-2008-11, Jan. 30, 2008
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to beware of several current e-mail and telephone scams that use the IRS name as a lure. The IRS expects such scams to continue through the end of tax return filing season and beyond.
The IRS cautioned taxpayers to be on the lookout for scams involving proposed advance payment checks. Although the government has not yet enacted an economic stimulus package in which the IRS would provide advance payments, known informally as rebates to many Americans, a scam which uses the proposed rebates as bait has already cropped up.
The goal of the scams is to trick people into revealing personal and financial information, such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers, which the scammers can use to commit identity theft.
Typically, identity thieves use a victim’s personal and financial data to empty the victim’s financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name, file fraudulent tax returns or even commit crimes. Most of these fraudulent activities can be committed electronically from a remote location, including overseas. Committing these activities in cyberspace allows scamsters to act quickly and cover their tracks before the victim becomes aware of the theft.
People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years — and their hard-earned money — cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their reputations and credit records. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, may be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
The most recent scams brought to IRS attention are described below.
Rebate Phone Call
At least one scheme using the word “rebate” as part of the lure has been identified. In that scam, consumers receive a phone call from someone identifying himself as an IRS employee. The caller tells the targeted victim that he is eligible for a sizable rebate for filing his taxes early. The caller then states that he needs the target’s bank account information for the direct deposit of the rebate. If the target refuses, he is told that he cannot receive the rebate.
This phone call is a scam. No legislation has yet been enacted that would allow the IRS to provide advance payments to taxpayers or that determines the details of those payments. Moreover, the IRS does not force taxpayers to use direct deposit. Those who opt for direct deposit do so by completing the appropriate section of their tax return, with bank routing and account information, when they file; the IRS does not gather the information by telephone.
The IRS has seen several variations of a refund-related bogus e-mail which falsely claims to come from the IRS, tells the recipient that he or she is eligible for a tax refund for a specific amount, and instructs the recipient to click on a link in the e-mail to access a refund claim form. The form asks the recipient to enter personal information that the scamsters can then use to access the e-mail recipient’s bank or credit card account.
In a new wrinkle, the current version of the refund scam includes two paragraphs that appear to be directed toward tax-exempt organizations that distribute funds to other organizations or individuals. The e-mail contains the name and supposed signature of the Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations business division.
This e-mail is a phony. The IRS does not send unsolicited e-mail about tax account matters to individual, business, tax-exempt or other taxpayers.
Filing a tax return is the only way to apply for a tax refund; there is no separate application form. Taxpayers who wish to find out if they are due a refund from their last annual tax return filing may use the “Where’s My Refund?” interactive application on this Web site, IRS.gov. The only official IRS Web site is located here at http://www.irs.gov/.
Another new scam brought to IRS attention contains features not seen before by the IRS. Using a technique calculated to get almost anyone’s attention, the e-mail notifies the recipient that his or her tax return will be audited. This is the first scam of which the IRS is aware that uses this to get the victim to respond.
Unusual for a scam e-mail, it may contain a salutation in the body addressed to the specific recipient by name. Most scam e-mails seen by the IRS are sent using the same technique used by spammers, in which hundreds of thousands of messages are sent to potential victims based on Internet address. Because of the volume, the typical scam e-mail is not personalized.
This e-mail instructs the recipient to click on links to complete forms with personal and account information, which the scammers will use to commit identity theft.
This e-mail is a phony. The IRS does not send unsolicited, tax-account related e-mails to taxpayers.
Changes to Tax Law e-Mail
This bogus e-mail is addressed to businesses, accountants and “Treasury” managers. It instructs them to download information on tax law changes by clicking on a series of links to publications on businesses, estate taxes, excise taxes, exempt organizations and IRAs and other retirement plans. The IRS believes that clicking on a link downloads malware onto the recipient’s computer. Malware is malicious code that can take over the victim’s computer hard drive, giving someone remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scamster. There are other types of malware, as well.
The urls contained in the link are not legitimate IRS Web addresses. All IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with http://www.irs.gov/.
Paper Check Phone Call
In a current telephone scam, a caller claims to be an IRS employee who is calling because the IRS sent a check to the individual being called. The caller states that because the check has not been cashed, the IRS wants to verify the individual’s bank account number. The caller may have a foreign accent.
In reality, the IRS leaves it entirely up to the individual to choose to cash or not cash a paper check. The IRS has no business need to know, and does not ask for, bank account or similar information, except when taxpayers indicate on their tax return that they are opting for the direct electronic deposit of their refund. In that case, however, it is the individual’s responsibility to provide the IRS with the correct bank routing and account numbers on the tax return; the IRS does not contact taxpayers to verify the information.
What to Do
Anyone wishing to access the IRS Web site should initiate contact by typing the IRS.gov address into their Internet address window, rather than clicking on a link in an e-mail or opening an attachment.
Those who have received a questionable e-mail claiming to come from the IRS may forward it to a mailbox the IRS has established to receive such e-mails, [email protected], using instructions contained in an article titled “How to Protect Yourself from Suspicious E-Mails or Phishing Schemes.” Following the instructions will help the IRS track the suspicious e-mail to its origins and shut down the scam. Find the article by visiting IRS.gov and entering the words “suspicious e-mails” into the search box in the upper right corner of the front page.
Those who have received a questionable telephone call that claims to come from the IRS may also use the [email protected] mailbox to notify the IRS of the scam.
The IRS has issued previous warnings on scams that use the IRS to lure victims into believing the scam is legitimate. More information on identity theft, phishing and telephone scams using the IRS name, logo or spoofed (copied) Web site is available on this Web site. Enter the terms “phishing,” “identity theft” or “e-mail scams” into the search box in the upper right corner of the front page.
Posted on April 17th, 2008 No comments
If identity thieves were to disregard your financial accounts and instead target your medical information, your first thought might well be, “Take my medical identity. Please.” What nut would want your high cholesterol, trick knee, and family history of Alzheimer’s? The answer is simple: one without health insurance who needs surgery or prescription drugs, or someone who sees a medical ID as the open sesame that will allow him or her to collect millions in false medical claims. These thieves don’t actually want your medical ailments, of course, but by pretending to be you they can get what they’re really after. Untangling the mess is hard: Unlike financial identity theft, there’s no straightforward process for challenging false medical claims or correcting inaccurate medical records. For victims, the result can be thousands in unpaid charges, damaged credit, and bogus, possibly dangerous details cluttering up their medical records for years to come.(Getty Images)
Medical identity theft currently accounts for just 3 percent of identity theft crimes, or 249,000 of the estimated 8.3 million people who had their identities lifted in 2005, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But as the push toward electronic medical records gains momentum, privacy experts worry those numbers may grow substantially. They’re concerned that as doctors and hospitals switch from paper records to EMRs, as they’re called, it may become easier for people to gain unauthorized access to sensitive patient information on a large scale. In addition, Microsoft, Revolution Health, and, just this week, Google have announced they’re developing services that will allow consumers to store their health information online. Consumers may not even know their records have been compromised. In January, a new law took effect in California that requires providers to let consumers know if their medical information has been “breached.” But only a handful of other states spell out notification requirements regarding unauthorized release of patient medical data. In contrast, most states have so-called breach laws that address accidental disclosures of financial information; these may also apply to medical data in certain instances. This month, Democratic Reps. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, with support from several privacy groups and Microsoft, introduced a bill that would strengthen safeguards protecting access to consumers’ medical information and make it a federal requirement to notify patients if their healthcare data get exposed.