Guard your identity with your life, warns South Florida’s top law enforcement official.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer says the double whammy of ID theft and tax-refund scams are the “new Medicare fraud,” picking the pockets of hard-working people and the federal government every year for billions of dollars.
“We need to protect our personal identities as best we can,” Ferrer told The Miami Herald. “One of the best ways to protect yourself is to file your tax returns as early as possible to beat the criminals to the punch.”
The Miami area, infamous for its smorgasbord of fraud schemes, is among the worst spots for what he described as an “epidemic” ID-theft crime wave. To drive home his point at the height of the tax season, Ferrer’s office unveiled the latest prosecutions of 14 defendants in a variety of tax-refund rackets.
Among them: Yet another case of a South Florida hospital employee swiping patients’ Social Security numbers and dates of birth to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.
According to an indictment filed in January, Boca Raton Regional Hospital scheduler Shalamar Major, 32, of Deerfield Beach, stole the personal information of patients and supplied the data to Tanisha Wright in exchange for a split fee for every successful false return submitted to the IRS.
Wright, 27, of Fort Lauderdale, is accused of filing the returns electronically and getting the IRS to direct-deposit the refunds on pre-paid reloadable debit cards, so she could make withdrawals at ATMs or retail purchases. In total, she filed 57 returns seeking $306,720, according to the indictment.
Other prosecutions include:
• In an IRS undercover sting last month, Nael Dawud Sammour, 52, was charged with theft of public money after he tried to cash 75 fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks totaling $750,369, according to an indictment. Sammour was arrested after he allegedly used counterfeit driver’s licenses and Social Security cards to cash the refunds through IRS agents posing as check cashers. Agents seized $30,128 from him.
• Two other defendants, Fednol Pierre, 34, of Miami, and Jeanson Pata, 31, of West Palm Beach, were charged in January with stealing government funds and aggravated ID theft involving six fraudulent refunds totaling $52,535.
• Last week, five defendants — Jeffrey Andre Young Jr., 31, of Miami, Joseph Bshara, 27, of Miami Shores, Siham Benabdallah, 23, of Miami Shores, along with Douglas Michael Young, 41, and Nicole Young, 42, owners of two Miami tax preparation companies — pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy involving $37,749 in cashed refund checks.
Perpetrators in South Florida, Tampa and other regions of the country steal the identities of people including prisoners, the poor and even children who don’t file income tax returns in order to avoid having the IRS detect duplicate filings, authorities say. They also swipe people’s IDs to file phony tax returns. Combined, the schemes have robbed the U.S. government of billions of dollars yearly since the crime began spreading in 2008, according to a Treasury Department report.
South Florida victims of these and similar crimes run the gamut: police officers, Holocaust survivors, U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan, hospital patients and senior citizens.