Feds warn of identity theft for tax fraud

U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles and Carolyn Weber of the IRS discuss identity theft risks with 24 Hour News 8's Henry Erb. (March 27, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal officials are warning citizens to be on the lookout for crooks who might try to file phony tax returns to get big refunds.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Wilson and Carolyn Weber, the head of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal division in Michigan, told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday that the crime could be committed in any citizen’s name.

They cited the case of Rashia Wilson of Florida, who called herself the ‘First Lady of Tax Fraud.’  On her Facebook page, she dared the feds to catch her — and they did after she scammed nearly $3 million by stealing people’s identities and using them to file phony tax returns. She is now serving 20 years in a federal prison.

Authorities say people may be running the same fraud here in West Michigan.

“We do have many identity theft cases pending; investigations pending as well,” Mile said.

The IRS has flagged nearly 15 million suspicious tax returns over the last three years, Weber said.

“A lot of times, people will go to file their returns and they’ll get a letter from us saying, ‘you’ve already filed your return.’ That’s, unfortunately, how people find out,” she said.

If that happens, the IRS says it will work with affected taxpayers — but it could be a tedious process. Victims have to file extra paperwork, refile their returns and wait longer for their refunds.

That, authorities say, is all the more reason to protect your identity.

“Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. A lot of young people tend to do that because it’s their first form of ID,” Miles said. “Sometimes there’s tax returns being filed using Social Security numbers from teenagers.”

Authorities also warn citizens not to give their Social Security numbers to strangers over the phone or online.

They had another message for the crooks tempted to steal identities and file phony returns:

“You’re going to face up to 20 years in federal prison — maybe more depending on how many counts,” Miles said.

“They’re going to go to jail. It’s really not a matter of if we find them.  It’s when we find them,” Weber added.

Judges also usually order the crooks to pay back the money they steal from the government.  Wilson owes the government $2 million in addition to her prison sentence.

The feds say crooks also sometimes impersonate the IRS over the phone to steal.

“They’re manipulating the caller ID that they’re from the IRS, maybe even having the 1-800 number and then making it sound like they’re at a call center,” Miles said.

The frauds tell people they owe the government money and could go to jail if they don’t pay immediately.

But there are ways to tell if the call is from the real IRS or crooks who are just pretending.

“We will never demand that you give us money. We will never demand that you put it on a prepaid debit card,” Weber said.

The IRS says if you get a call saying you owe the IRS money, you should ask for the caller’s name and ID number. Then call the IRS’s 800 number to confirm their identity.

Miles said those thieves could also spend 20 years in a federal prison for wire fraud.

“We take it very seriously,” he said.

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