The Federal Trade Commission received as many complaints of identity theft in the first six months of 2011 as they did in all of 2010. Many of the stolen identities were used to commit tax fraud by filing income tax returns and collecting the refund from the IRS. More than half of the reports regarding stolen Social Security numbers originated in South Florida. Investigators have termed the upward trend as "alarming" and are struggling deal with this form of white collar crime.
In 2010, the FTC received 4,524 complaints of tax or wage fraud. Through the end of June this year, they had received more than 11,600 such complaints. The IRS is facing a difficult task in identifying who actually filed the fraudulent tax returns. One group may even have targeted law enforcement officials. A Broward sheriff acknowledged that more than 30 officers had their identities stolen and used to file false returns to collect the refund. The officers, like so many others, did not discover the theft until they attempted to file their tax returns and discovered it had already been done.
Most of the fraudulent returns are of little interest to IRS investigators. With limited resources, only tax fraud cases involving large amounts of money justify the expense of a criminal trial. Police are focusing their efforts on organized criminal conspiracies involving identity theft on a mass scale.
It is likely only a matter of time before an individual is prosecuted for tax fraud based on returns that were filed as a result of identity theft. The IRS and law enforcement are aware of the situation and should take steps to eliminate that possibility before accusing anyone of tax fraud.
Source: The Palm Beach Post News, "ID theft skyrocketing in South Florida; 'easier than robbing a bank,' one crook claims," Sally Kestin and John Maines, 10 October 2011