Saturday, October 11, 2014
Cops: Morrisville addresses targeted for IRS tax fraud scam
Posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The woman shows up at a home claiming that her husband accidentally put the wrong address on his IRS income tax refund check.
Next is the question, did the resident happen to receive the funds addressed to a person with a Hispanic surname recently? If the answer is yes, she asks for the check. If the check hasn’t arrived, she may leave a phone number requesting a call when it does.
At least four Morrisville residents have met this woman over the past 10 days, police said on Tuesday. Her visit announces the first suburban Philadelphia appearance of a tax refund fraud scheme that has shown up in cities across the nation, Morrisville police Cpl. Michael Pitcher said.
Pitcher believes that more Morrisville residents are being targeted by the so-called “Puerto Rico Scam” and more should expect to be approached before the scammers move on based on his conversations with the U.S. Postal Inspector and an IRS investigator.
“This is a serious problem and most likely will spread rapidly through the borough and eventually Bucks County,” Pitcher added.
The scheme’s roots are in New York in 2002, but it expanded throughout the U.S. especially on the East Coast, Pitcher said. Some published reports estimate the IRS has lost $2 billion in refund checks associated with the scam.
The thieves are organized gangs who have filed hundreds of thousands of fraudulent tax returns using stolen Social Security numbers assigned to postal customers who live in Puerto Rico, he said. Citizens of Puerto Rico generally do not file federal income taxes if their incomes are solely derived from sources within the U.S. territory.
In order to get the fraudulent refund checks, the fraudsters need to use legitimate U.S. addresses where the refunds can be mailed, Pitcher said.
A New York man was sentenced last month to 78 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $250,000 for allegedly using illegally obtained identification information for Puerto Rican citizens, including names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers. He and his accomplices used that information to file thousands of fraudulent tax returns between January 2011 and April 2012, according to the IRS web site.
As part of the scheme, the man and his accomplices bribed Postal Service employees to intercept tax refund checks from the mail. They also removed tax refund checks from the addressees’ mail boxes, according to the federal tax agency.
In March, Carlos Jose Luis, described as a “leader” in the scheme, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to nine years in prison for operating a tax refund fraud mill from an apartment in the Bronx. Luis stole more than $10 million in IRS tax refund checks between January 2011 and September 2012, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
To fraudulently obtain the refund checks, Luis used the stolen identities of Puerto Rican citizens to claim large refunds from the federal government. Many of the checks in this particular scheme were sent to addresses in Shirley, New York, where a Postal Service employee was stealing United States mail containing tax refund checks, according to authorities.
Federal authorities believe that the scammer targeted areas before directing refund checks to particular addresses. They use both men and women, who use a similar version of the wrong address story to pick up the checks.
The four Morrisville residents who received the fraudulent checks all lived on the same block of the same street, though police are not releasing the name of the street. Each resident received the check in the mail and within a few days, the woman knocked on their doors with the story about her husband writing the wrong address on the refund, Pitcher said.
Only one of the four residents approached gave the woman the refund check, Pitcher said. The others either returned the letter to the post office or their carrier.
The suspected scammer circulating in Morrisville is described as a Hispanic woman with olive skin in her mid- to late-30s with long black hair; she is about 5 feet, 4 inches tall and a thin build, police said. She speaks both Spanish and English, and often will start speaking in English, then revert to Spanish, Pitcher said.