Just a couple of days ago the Kosciusko County Sheriffs Department announced it had arrested a New York man and charged him with forgery for filing a fake tax return using the Social Security number of a Leesburg woman.
In a sense, its just another crime story, but to me it was exciting.
Finally, someone, somewhere, had done something about one of the fraudsters who seem to be proliferating around the country.
I write a lot about people who have been scammed, victims who lose thousands of dollars to the grandma scam and other schemes. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about another victim of the bogus tax return scheme, and since then Ive gotten messages from other people in the area who have been the victims of the same scam.
Generally, when someone is the victim of one of these scams, they call the police and report what happened to them, and it seems that usually, thats the end of it.
In a way, one shouldnt be too surprised.
If someone vandalizes your car, the first thing you do is call the police and file a report. You dont expect a band of detectives to show up at your door. Chances are pretty slim that the vandal will ever be caught. You file the police report as a formality so you can turn it in to your insurance company and get some compensation for your loss.
The same thing seems to happen with the tax fraud schemes. You file a police report so you can turn it in to the IRS as proof that someone else filed a bogus tax return in your name. Then the ball is in the IRSs court.
What people dont seem to realize is that the bogus tax return scheme, though few people have heard of it, is epidemic. The police and the prosecutor in Kosciusko County werent familiar with it, but they say they soon learned that it was happening all over the country, and the federal government was paying out massive amounts of money in bogus tax refunds.
The IRS does try to chase down these scammers. On its website it posts news releases about teams of scammers, often posing as tax preparers, who have been caught using stolen Social Security numbers to file piles of returns full of bogus numbers and get piles of fat refunds.
Sgt. Chad Hill of the Kosciusko Sheriffs Department says the IRS is flooded with reports of such scams.
Whats unusual – and gratifying – about the Kosciusko County case is that instead of taking the report and telling the victim to call the IRS, a police detective and the prosecutors office looked at what was a $9,000 theft, decided that was a pretty substantial amount of money, and actually started investigating the case.
They gathered what information they could from different agencies, subpoenaed records, worked with other police departments and ended up tracing it all back to one individual.
I spoke to the prosecutor, Dan Hampton, about the case. He said he couldnt say much because the case is still under investigation and, as the sheriffs department noted in a statement, the charge against the defendant is merely an accusation and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
But I was curious. Why did they go after this case so tenaciously? Why did they bother to go all the way to New York City to chase the alleged perpetrator, who, it turns out, is a foreigner in the country on an expired visa? Didnt they know that cracking a case like this is all but impossible? Did they just not know any better?
Hampton laughed. He had a victim in his county, and he had a responsibility to investigate. They were just doing their job.
The case is an eye-opener for Hampton, though. People dont realize how much the government is losing, and people dont realize what headaches victims will face in the future when they try to file their taxes.
My suggestion to Hampton was that he set up a school and teach other prosecutors and police departments how to chase these scams, because he and the sheriffs detective obviously know how to do it.