As the April 15 tax filing deadline approaches, Attorney General Eric Holder warned U.S. tax filers to beware a “rising threat” of scammers seeking fraudulent refunds based on stolen identities, and vowed aggressive enforcement against the practice. Speaking in a recorded video message released on the Justice Department’s website, Attorney General Holder explained that a growing pool of criminals are engaged in the activity, including gangs and drug sellers seeking quick access to cash.
The Justice Department’s Tax Division, in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide, have prioritized the investigation and prosecution of individuals who engage in stolen identity refund fraud. In the last year alone, the Department charged more than 880 defendants involved in stolen identity refund fraud, and the IRS reports that it resolved or closed approximately 963,000 cases involving identity theft victims.
“This is an increasingly urgent problem,” said Attorney General Holder. “Its impact can be devastating to families that are counting on legitimate tax refunds that are diverted by identity theft. And especially in recent years, the Justice Department has seen the scale, scope, and execution of these fraud schemes grow significantly.”
The Attorney General urged Americans to protect themselves by reporting suspicious activity and learning more at the IRS website, the Justice Department’s Tax Division website, and STOPFRAUD.GOV. Noting that anyone can be a target of these scams, Attorney General Holder shared his own recent experience with tax refund fraud after two individuals in Georgia attempted to obtain a fraudulent refund using his personal information.
The complete text of the Attorney General’s video message is below:
“With the time to file taxes just around the corner, we at the Justice Department want to warn you about a rising threat facing law-abiding taxpayers.
“Over the last several years, stolen identity refund fraud has affected hundreds of thousands of Americans, victimizing honest citizens and draining billions of taxpayer dollars from the U.S. Treasury. In fact, the IRS reported that last year they resolved and closed approximately 963,000 cases involving identity theft victims. Criminals who perpetrate these schemes use stolen personal identifying information – such as Social Security numbers – to file false tax returns with the IRS in order to steal fraudulent tax refunds.
“These scams are no longer just about white-collar criminals. They are carried out by a variety of actors – from greedy tax return preparers to identity brokers who profit from the sale of personal information – to gangs and drug rings looking for easy access to cash. And these criminal enterprises disproportionately target the most vulnerable members of society – including low-income families, the elderly, Medicaid recipients, and those who have lost loved ones – including children.
“This is an increasingly urgent problem. Its impact can be devastating to families that are counting on legitimate tax refunds that are diverted by identity theft. And especially in recent years, the Justice Department has seen the scale, scope, and execution of these fraud schemes grow significantly.
“Fortunately, our knowledge of these crimes – and our ability to stop them – has grown as well. Last year alone, the Justice Department charged more than 880 defendants for their involvement in stolen identity refund fraud. Over the last few years – in some instances – those convicted of these crimes have faced sentences totaling upwards of ten years in prison. These sentences match the seriousness of these crimes. And they demonstrate our steadfast commitment to investigating and prosecuting tax refund fraud that involves identity theft.
“Particularly as we approach April 15th – as millions of Americans prepare and file this year’s tax returns – the Justice Department and its partners are stepping up our enforcement efforts. And we’re taking aggressive action to stop stolen identity refund fraud in its tracks whenever and wherever it occurs.
“The Justice Department will use every tool at its disposal to go after these scammers. And we’ll keep working with the IRS, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service, and other federal law enforcement agencies – as well as state and local law authorities – to combat these crimes. But we need members of the public to do their part by staying vigilant. After all, identity thieves can target anyone – something I saw firsthand last year, when two people attempted to get a fraudulent tax refund using my personal information.
“So I urge all of you to help my colleagues and I raise awareness about this growing threat. Protect yourself by reporting suspicious activity and filing your taxes as early as possible. And keep yourself from becoming a target by learning more about fraud and identity theft on the IRS website – or by visiting STOPFRAUD.GOV.”
The full video is available at http://www.justice.gov/agwa.php.