OKEECHOBEE — An Okeechobee woman filed a report with the sheriff’s office after she tried to file her tax return, but found out someone else had already filed the return by using her identity.
Deputy Corporal Michael Hazellief, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), stated in his report the 29-year-old woman learned the bogus claim had been filed Jan. 21.
Cpl. Hazellief said the amount of the fraudulent return was approximately $1,500.
“She explained she attempted to file her tax return and was not able to because someone has already filed a return in her name,” stated Cpl. Hazellief in his Jan. 28 report.
That fraudulent claim, added the deputy, was filed by using Turbo Tax and was done in the woman’s married name, which she no longer uses. Turbo Tax is a computer software package for filing tax returns.
“She contacted the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and placed a fraud alert on her account, and was told to make a report with local law enforcement,” Cpl. Hazellief stated.
Ironically, the victim in this case learned of the claim during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week which ran from Jan. 25 through Jan. 29.
This type of tax fraud can occur when someone other than the taxpayer:
• Files a fraudulent tax return using a taxpayer’s Social Security number and personal information to receive a tax refund;
• Uses a taxpayer’s Social Security number to get a job fraudulently, causing a victim’s income not to match what has been reported to the IRS; and,
• Claims a taxpayer’s child as a dependent, fraudulently preventing that child from being rightfully claimed as a dependent on the taxpayer’s annual return.
In a press release, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi offered several tips people can use to protect themselves against identity theft and tax fraud.
• File tax returns early in the tax season;
• Research the person who will prepare your taxes thoroughly before providing personal information;
• Use a secure internet connection when filing electronically. Do not use unsecured, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots;
• Mail tax returns directly from the post office, not from home;
• Know that Floridians are eligible for an Identity Protection (IP) personal identification number (PIN) from the IRS. Should someone enrolled in the IRS IP PIN program and file a return with an incorrect PIN, the IRS will reject or delay the return until it is submitted with the correct PIN and the taxpayer’s identity is confirmed. To get an IRS IP PIN, go to www.IRS.gov;
• Remember that the IRS will never initiate contact by email, phone, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail; and,
• If a Social Security number has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
Two Miami men were arrested and successfully prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida for their role in a stolen identity tax refund fraud scheme.
Roland Alexis, 34, was sentenced Jan. 26 to 42 months in prison. That term will be followed by three years of supervised release.
His partner, Jim Joseph, 31, received the same sentence on Jan. 20.
According to the indictment the two men conspired to file more than 860 false income tax returns and claimed more than $1 million each in refunds from the IRS.
The actions by Alexis resulted in a tax loss of $1.8 million, while Joseph defrauded the federal government out of $1.2 million. The two men filed false federal tax returns by using false identities between 2007 and July of 2014.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicated Joseph was ordered to pay $1,225,686.12 in restitution to the IRS.
Alexis was ordered to pay restitution totaling $1,805,332.71. He was also ordered to forfeit two single-family owned properties in Miami and $369,776.18 in proceeds being held in a bank account.
Victims can file a complaint by going to www.FTCComplaintAssistant.gov.
Floridians can also file reports through the Florida attorney general’s office.
To file a complaint locally, contact the Okeechobee City Police Department at 863-763-5521, if you live inside the city limits; or, the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office at 863-763-3117 if you live in the county.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News