Identity fraud has taken a turn for the worse – now potentially involving an act of murder. (It’s bad enough that identity fraud costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year and individuals countless dollars and hours in cleaning up the mess. Now, someone’s identity may have cost him his life.) Today’s Fraud of the Day from The Tampa Tribune focuses on a defendant in a murder case, who now stands accused of stealing his alleged victim’s identity and using the information to file a phony tax refund request.
According to the article, authorities say that the defendant allegedly used the identity of the man, who he is accused of murdering, as well as the “names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of three fellow inmates in a scheme to file fraudulent tax returns” while in jail awaiting trial on the murder charge. The defendant allegedly provided the information to someone on the outside “along with detailed information about how to commit tax fraud.” The article also describes the problem – what one deputy refers to as the “epidemic” of identity fraud throughout Florida, specifically in Florida county jails. (It’s not just limited to Florida.)
The defendant, who is innocent until proven guilty, faces four charges of criminal use of personal identification. This case marks the first time an inmate will face fraud charges for action allegedly conducted while in jail. (Well…it’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.) Authorities believe they detected the fraud before the defendant or his contacts on the outside were able to file the fake tax returns. (Excellent work!)
Authorities are taking extra precautions to prevent fraud from happening behind bars, but with the intricate system the inmates have concocted, tackling the problem has been a real challenge. Plus, the article notes: “The law restricts information that the Internal Revenue Service can provide to law enforcement. And there are legal limitations on bringing state charges.” A new pilot program may offer some help. The program enables identity theft victims to sign waivers allowing law enforcement access to information vital to finding the fraud perpetrators.
This article demonstrates that the problems of identity fraud and tax refund fraud in jails must be combated on three fronts:
1) With the inmates – law enforcement must continue to do its part to prevent the inmates from committing fraud while in jail
2) At an intergovernmental legal/policy level – by putting in place laws, policies and processes that enable law enforcement access to federal information, and
3) In the government programs themselves – by leveraging identity verification and authentication tools to find the fraud before the checks are sent.
Just as there is no single way to commit the fraud, there is no single solution to solve the fraud problem. But fraudsters aren’t the only ones who think through all the angles. If the government programs that are the target of fraudsters work together with law enforcement, fraud can be stopped.