South Florida U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer issued a warning about identity theft and tax-refund scams. These forms of white collar crime are common this time of year and investigators are focusing significant effort on catching and prosecuting people for identify and tax fraud. He described ID theft and tax-refund fraud as the “new Medicare fraud,” and referred to it as an “epidemic.” According to the U.S. Treasury Department, identity theft combined with the filing of fraudulent income tax returns costs the government billions of dollars every year and has since the crimes began to grow in popularity in 2008.
As with many forms of fraud, Florida, particularly Tampa Bay and Miami, has been identified as a hub for the fraudulent activity. Florida was identified as having the highest rate of identity theft in the United States, nearly one-third higher than the next highest rate according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The theft of an identity allows a person to file a fraudulent tax return claiming a large refund. Typically, a person will file a 1040 income tax return with the stolen identity and use inaccurate income figures and doctored employment information. To avoid detection, the targets of identity theft are often people who are unlikely to file income tax returns of their own.
As the illegal practice has gained in popularity, the attention paid to it by criminal investigators has increased. The penalties for ID theft and tax fraud are severe. Anyone charged with these forms of fraud faces jail time and substantial fines.
Source: Bradenton Herald, “U.S. attorney issues warning and crackdown on ID theft, tax-refund fraud in Florida,” by Jay Weaver, 7 February 2013