Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It could have been worse. The criminal could have filed a fake tax return for Richie Incognito

The FBI emphasizes that tax return fraud can affect almost anyone.

From November 2012 through April 2013, [Yafait] Tadesse and co-defendant Eyaso Abebe carried out a scheme to obtain the names and Social Security numbers of unsuspecting victims from various websites and use this information on false tax returns that claimed fraudulent refunds. The tax returns falsely claimed that the victims earned similar wage and withholding amounts and worked at Wal-Mart. The returns all claimed fraudulent refunds that were to be loaded onto pre-paid debit cards. These pre-paid debit cards listed Tadesse’s apartment complex in Carrollton, Georgia as the mailing address.

While the IRS stopped several of the false returns from being fully processed, several fraudulent refunds were directed onto prepaid debit cards. Surveillance videos showed that Tadesse used one of these prepaid cards at stores in Carrollton, Georgia.

OK, so it's a tax fraud story, and some false tax returns were filed claiming that some people earned Walmart wages. But this is where it gets interesting.

One of the tax returns filed by Tadesse and Abebe used the name, Social Security number, and date of birth of U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Yup, the Attorney General. In other words, the person that's directly responsible for sending you to prison if you're convicted of a Federal tax fraud.

There is no indication that the attorney general was specifically targeted as a result of his position.

Obviously not.

In another story, the FBI detailed ways to reduce the chance that you will become a victim of identity fraud.

While identity theft may be difficult to completely guard against, there are steps you can take to make it harder for thieves to steal your personally identifiable information:

- Check your credit report on a regular basis.

- Don’t carry around your Social Security card or any document containing your Social Security number.

- Properly dispose of documents that contain sensitive information; shred them instead of throwing in the trash.

- Only give out your personal information when absolutely necessary—especially on websites and social media sites—and keep track of who you give it to (this could be helpful in determining the source of a breach of personally identifiable information if you become a victim).

- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and the latest anti-virus software.

- File your taxes as early as possible during tax season, since criminals using stolen identities tend to file their fraudulent returns early to obtain refunds before the legitimate filer submits a return.

- And if you’re someone who isn’t required to file a tax return, consider filing anyway to prevent someone else from filing a false return in your name and to be alerted in case someone has already filed a false return in your name.

The IRS has published its own tips, including the following:

Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.

Consider tenant applications:

A Social Security number is used for personal identification, and is necessary to do a credit check on a potential tenant. With the rise in identity theft, people have become reluctant to share this information with strangers, especially before they've signed a lease or entered a formal contractual agreement with a landlord. You can refuse to give out the digits, but don't be surprised if the landlord, in return, refuses to rent to you.

But be sure you know who the landlord is:

Sadly, there are scammers aplenty in the real estate world. Fake landlords will show an apartment, collect completed applications from several prospective tenants, then sell the information on the black market. In addition, free listing sites such as Craigslist are infamous for fake rental listings that request a Social Security number for a preliminary credit check.

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