It's the time of year when all of us begin filing our tax returns. It's also the time when scammers come up with ways to beat the system.
"They took the identities, basically names, social security numbers of real people and without those peoples' knowledge they filed fraudulent tax returns," explained Nathaniel Sims, U.S. Postal Inspector.
In every case, the suspects claimed to be a student and applied for a $1000 tax credit.
"It was irrespective of whether the person was 85 years old and hadn't been in school since they were in high school or whether the person was 22 years old and was in college," said Sims.
Then, suspects began cold calling victims telling them they were entitled to a $500 refund. All they had to do was supply their personal information, and they did.
"They filed a fraudulent tax return, claimed that $1000 student credit, and asked the IRS do a split refund," Sims explained. "They would have the IRS send $500 to them."
That's why the scheme worked and grew so quickly. Victims actually received a $500 check.
"This scheme spread like wild fire," said Simms. "Not only do you have a sort of plausible explanation that there is this stimulus money that's available, all you have to do is submit for it...but they are actually paying out for it."
Postal inspectors are still investigating the case, but they do know 15,000 false returns were filed and there was more than $19,000,000 in losses.
Victims didn't realize they were scammed until they filed their tax return.
"I've had victims tell me they were evicted from their homes because they didn't get the tax return they were expecting," said Simms.
Three suspects were arrested for starting the scheme.
The best advice is to always protect your personal information.
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Consumer Alert: Tax season scams