The tax return called for the refund to be sent to a Walmart employee — not the country’s most powerful law enforcement official.
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PROTECT YOUR GOOD NAME
Identity theft experts Adam Levin and Robert Siciliano say most people should operate under the assumption that their personal identifying information has already been compromised. But they offer these tips on how to minimize, manage and monitor any possible damage:
- Shred all documents that contain your personal identifying information.
- Never carry your or your children’s Social Security cards.
- Do not conduct personal banking on your cell phone in areas that offer free WiFi service.
- Make passwords to your accounts long, strong and not easily decipherable, and do not share passwords across different sites. (Also, do not use your email address as your user ID.)
- Be highly skeptical of any email that asks you for personal identifying information.
- File your taxes early to stay one step ahead of fraudsters who may be trying to file false returns under your name.
- Consider buying identity theft protection, which can monitor your Social Security number and alert you when it’s used to obtain a loan.
- Get a credit freeze that prevents any lender from seeing your credit report without your authorization.
- If someone claiming to be from a company or government agency calls and asks for your personal information, hang up the phone and call that entity’s customer service desk.
- Get in the habit of taking a few minutes each day to check your bank and credit card accounts to make sure all transactions listed on those accounts are ones you made.
- If you believe you may be a victim of tax return-related identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245 (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. local time).
TAX RETURNS FOR PRISONERS
In recent years, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta has prosecuted a number of cases in which individuals used creative ways to commit identity theft fraud. Among them:
- Bernardo Davis, a Stockbridge tax preparer, was sentenced in February to 21 1/2 years in prison for leading thousands of victims to believe they could apply for federal stimulus payments or government funds if they provided their names and Social Security numbers. Davis and other co-conspirators used these stolen IDs to file fraudulent returns seeking more than $19 million in bogus refunds. Evidence at Davis’ trial showed that more than 1,600 refund checks were sent to his home address.
- Cora Cadia Ford, of Stone Mountain, was sentenced in January to 9 years and 3 months in prison for filing false tax returns using stolen identities, including those of homeless and disabled people. In some instances, Ford would persuade victims to give her their IDs so she could apply for homeless grants on their behalf. Ford, who ran a small church with her now-deceased husband, also told parishioners she would file tax returns on their behalf and it would be a “gift from God,” prosecutors said.
- Bradford Thomas, of Cobb County, was sentenced this month to 10 years and 1 month in prison for using the stolen identities of prisoners to file false federal income tax returns. Over three years, Thomas orchestrated a scheme to file more than 1,200 bogus returns using the names and Social Security numbers of many victims who were incarcerated in prisons and jails throughout the country. His scam resulted in a loss of more than $1.6 million in tax dollars, prosecutors said.