Prosecutors are increasingly focused on tax refund fraud, pursuing cases totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in Florida alone. Tax refund fraud occurs when a person uses a stolen identity to submit false tax returns. It is possible to cash refund checks before the Internal Revenue Service discovers its mistake – but the IRS investigates these cases aggressively.

While federal authorities have many tools available to help them investigate and develop these tax fraud cases, a recent arrest shows that even the most routine traffic stop could lead them right to a suspect.

Law enforcement officers pulled over one Florida man last year. When they searched his car, they found internal documents from a Florida health insurance company. Now they claim that the man used those documents to steal patient identities and submit false tax returns in their names.

Constitutional rules protect citizens from unreasonable searches. This means that the government cannot simply search someone’s car for information linking them to a crime. However, if police officers have a reason to suspect that a crime occurred and that they will find evidence of that crime, then they are allowed to stop a citizen and make a search.

Moreover, police can still use the evidence if it involves a completely different crime than they expected to find. So, for example, if the police here had expected to find evidence that the man was driving drunk before they pulled him over, they would still be able to use the evidence of an unrelated tax crime to prosecute him.

Search and seizure issues can be very complex and the stakes are usually high. If a defendant successfully explains why a search was illegal and unconstitutional, the government may find itself without enough evidence to keep pursuing the case.

Source: Tampa Bay Online, “Tax refund fraud linked to health care documents,” Elaine Silvestrini, Oct. 28, 2012 

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