Criminals across the country are raking in billions of dollars in tax refunds through a new and brazen form of fraud that takes advantage of the IRS's fast online returns, law enforcement officials say.
Using laptops and free Wi-Fi connections, criminals are stealing identities and using the names of legitimate taxpayers to file fraudulent online tax returns. They've raked in billions, buying luxury cars, expensive jewelry and plastic surgery, police said.
"It's like the federal government is putting crack cocaine in candy machines," said Detective Craig Catlin of the North Miami Beach, Florida, Police Department. "It's that easy."
First, thieves obtain Social Security numbers and other personal information from insiders at hospitals, doctor's offices, car dealerships or anywhere the information is stored. Then, they file an online tax return using the real taxpayer's name and a fictitious income. In most cases, the criminals buy a debit card so the IRS can issue the refund on that card, although some thieves have also gotten their returns on actual Treasury checks.
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