Identity Fraud – The Gift That Keeps On Taking

A heads up to regular readers. This post is a little ranty because I’m fairly frustrated with the criminal justice system on this issue. Stay tuned for another post soon where we talk about some moves that we’re taking to provide an even better security.

20130618-211713.jpg

Oh no! They’re coming after us again!

A few months ago, I found myself the unexpected victim identity fraud in the form of of unemployment benefit fraud. I followed all the steps to protect myself in that article, and have been since victimized again. This time, tax fraud. Or rather, attempted tax fraud.

So far, the steps that I outlined in my previous post did their jobs. My credit report is locked down for the next seven years. (An inconvenience, but worth it to not be stolen from.) I have filed alerts and complaints with what feels like 8 million different agencies, and I have my bank accounts so locked down that I need to show ID if I make a deposit in a branch. A deposit! It’s an annoyance for the tellers, but until this stuff calms down, I’m leaving that on there.

 

How Did This Happen If Everything Is Locked Down?

There are a few things that I have no control over locking down. You can file an IRS Identity Theft Affadavit, but until they investigate and (if!) they decide to issue you a pin number for filing future returns, your tax return status is wide open. Are you scared? (Apparently you should be if you are entitled to refunds…)

The other thing that is a bit wide open is my social security records. I have an account on socialsecurity.gov, where I can check and make sure the social security work records under my name are correct (someone working under your name can cause big problems down the road). But this information is only updated once per year, usually in the fall. So far it’s clean, but like I said… who knows what fun awaits after the next update!

 

Oh No! What Happened This Time?

Thanks so much for your concern, it means a lot. Truly. =)

I woke up a couple of weeks ago to a series of email messages from HRBlock.com. You might remember that we use a tax guy to file our taxes, and he’s not from HRBlock. So when I read the message subjects that in timestamped order are:

  • H&RBlock: Online Account Created
  • H&RBlock: Your Emerald Card Confirmation
  • H&RBlock: Federal Return Submitted
  • H&RBlock: Federal Tax Return Rejected

I said, “You’re f-ing kidding me, right? At least the last one says rejected.”

 

And So It Began Again

The process of filing complaints with the police, the FTC, H&RBlock, the IRS. The endless phone calls, the follow-ups, the faxing paperwork, making copies, organizing documentation.

I quickly found out that my email, my ssn, and my name were used to file a tax return that was rejected because we had already filed a tax return.

I’m now of the belief that these may be the stupidest criminals in the world since they filed for unemployment benefits after (I believe) getting my current employment information off of linked in. You know, where it clearly stated I was still gainfully employed. Then they filed for taxes in my name AFTER April 15th.

So right now I have luck (aka their lack of brain cells) on my side. But I still want something done about this! And this is what I am faced with.

 

Gridlock On Justice Blvd

Local Police – We can’t do anything since we don’t know what jurisdiction the crime took place in. Find out where it occurred and we can get you connected over there. *Sigh* I can try to get the address from H&RBlock.

IRS – You can send in an addendum to your original ID Theft Affadavit, but since you aren’t really a victim here since they didn’t get any money it’s probably not going to get investigated. If you know where the crime happened, that jurisdiction should pursue it. But we also can’t guarantee that you’ll be issued a pin to secure your 2013 filing. Really? How hard is it for you to assign a six-digit number?

H&RBlock – I called 17 different offices and numbers trying to get into what is legally “my” H&RBlock account. The criminals hadn’t used my information when filling in the security questions, finally was transferred to a nice kid in tech support who showed me how to break into “my” account, which was do-able since the stupid criminals used my email address for the login. Thanks tech support kid!

 

After getting the address to which they wanted the prepaid mastercard with the tax refund loaded on it sent, I now had a way to file a police report in the correct jurisdiction. Where is that jurisdiction?

1 mile from the address that I filed the unemployment benefits fraud reports in January.

1 mile away.

1 FREAKING mile.

I can’t help but think that this wouldn’t have happened had that jurisdiction actually done SOMETHING with the report instead of nothing – scratch that, they forwarded that complaint to the Florida Department of Financial Services and THEY did NOTHING.

 

What Did The Thieves’ Police Force Do?

I called the Police for the jurisdiction of the fraud this time around. Despite being so close, it’s technically a different jurisdiciton, so I was hopeful that MAYBE something would actually be done.

Nope. Instead this…

Police Woman: “There’s no crime here, you can’t file a police report. No crime, no victim, no report. And if they had succeeded it would be a federal crime anyhow.”

I (perhaps less kindly than I should have) reminded her that even if unsuccessful, fraudulent use of another person’s identifying information is against the Florida State Statutes. (In fact, it’s a felony according to Fla Statute 817.568 and if they can prove they attempted ID fraud on at least 28 other occurrences, that’s a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years whether they’re successful attempts or not!)

After some persuasion, she did eventually connect me with a superior who allowed me to file a report in that jurisdiction. And said that all he could do was offer to mail me an ID Theft packet that basically outlined all the steps I’d already taken 4 months ago. And quite clearly hadn’t prevented tax fraud.

Whether they’re just trying to suppress crime rates there or what, I really can’t say, but it’s very disappointing and frustrating that you would have to FIGHT to file a crime report when a FELONY has been perpetrated against you. (Sorry for the all caps. But seriously!)

And More…

I’ve called the FBI, who told me to call the FTC, who said all they are is a database of victims (mind you, the database has all the victims SSN’s, so we’re all doubly screwed if their system is ever hacked). The FTC told me to call the IRS… and so you can see this neverending cycle.

No one wants to take ownership of this. And it’s incredibly frustrating. Check out my awesome “Blame Game” diagram that I sketched out for all of the madness.

20130618-204143.jpgNot to jump on the issue of the day, but it was really frustrating that pretty much every agency was telling me the IRS should pursue the investigation, but the IRS passed the buck at the same time all the recent IRS scandals and reports of wasteful spending were coming to light.

 

The Bright Side

I’ve been able to trace this back to where I believe it began about 15 months ago. And while it’s been particularly frustrating immediately following these two recent incidents, the criminals haven’t gotten anything. My credit is intact. And I KNOW what to expect.

If we don’t get issued a PIN (though I’m really hoping we do), we will be filing our taxes as early as possible to prevent any window of opportunity for the thieves to file before us.

 

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve become aware of some of the vulnerabilities in the system, and Mr. PoP and I are devising ways around those vulnerabilities, which we’ll talk about in our next (significantly less ranty) post on this topic.

 

Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Were the criminals ever prosecuted? What steps have you taken to prevent that from happening?

 

 

40 comments to Identity Fraud – The Gift That Keeps On Taking

  • Wow, sorry for all of that. It sounds awful! It sucks to feel so powerless when you’re just trying to do the right thing. It really is amazing how vulnerable we are to this stuff. It always feels like these things happen to “other people” until you’re the other person. Looking forward to the next post to hear some ideas on how to protect yourself. I hope this all gets resolved for you guys without any real harm done.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Why Whole Life Insurance is a Bad InvestmentMy Profile

    • So far it’s cost us time and about $30. But it’s also cost me peace of mind and it really does out you on the defensive in the same way I’ve heard victims of burglary describe how it feels.

      Tips coming soon!

  • Holy cow, this type of thing scares the crap out of me. Do you have any clue how they got your information? I’d be a bit terrified because your information is now out there. It almost seems like there needs to be a way to change you SS and start over. Of course, that would be a massive headache.

    I’ve been the victim of online fraud once, someone stole about $700 that was laying around in my PayPal account. PayPal got my money back, but what really scared me was that the jerks got my information in the first place. I’m a tech geek and I know all about phishing scams. I would never fall victim to one. Also, my passwords tend to look more like “G8uY^1-KNaF01” than “12345678abc”.

    Somedays, I want to close down all of my online accounts and go back to paper. Of course, that would be terrilble in a whole different way.
    Mr. 1500 recently posted..Movin’ on DownMy Profile

    • My best guess is that my info was stolen from a doctors office in the area where I used to live about 5-6 years ago. That’s now one of the hotbeds of this kind of crime in the whole nation and disgruntled doctors office employees have been caught. Back then, my insurance # was my SSN, so there was no choice but to use it…

      Our old passwords were somewhere in between your two examples – leet speak phrases, but there was a decipherable pattern to them if any of the sites had decided to store them in plaintext. Those passwords weren’t ever hacked, but attempts were made, so that’s another thing that we’ve upped the security on even more.

  • :( Fortunately I’ve not been a victim of identity theft, but it’s something I think about a lot. I request a free credit report every 4 months from the credit reporting agencies to make sure people aren’t opening accounts in my name. I also shred every piece of mail that contains my personal information. I agree that there are definite flaws in the system, and I feel like I can take all the precautions available but if an organization that has my information gets hacked, I’m out of luck.
    Tina @My Shiny Pennies recently posted..Do You Hand Over Your Privacy In Exchange for DiscountsMy Profile

    • Not completely out of luck. There’s probably still more you can do to secure your accounts a bit better. That’s what the next post on all this will be about.

  • Technically, everyone is right – a crime has not been committed. The rules are the same when it comes to a domestic violence/restraining order situation – until someone is actually beaten up, nothing can be done because no one has “technically” done anything that would be considered breaking the law.

    About all you can do is stay on top of the situation and monitor everything. I hate to say it, but you’ll probably be monitoring things for many months, if not years. In 1988 we bought our current home, and during the buying process I found out that a woman with the same name as me, and the same SSN save for the last FOUR digits, lived north of the city and was wanted by the prosecuting attorney for bad checks. We almost didn’t qualify for our mortgage due to that, and it took me a couple of weeks to prove I wasn’t that person to the mortgage bank.

    That woman’s bad check/bad credit history has followed me around for decades. Just a few years ago, someone stole her identity but in the process of setting up credit cards and bank loans, they ended up using some of my info, such as my address and phone (which I think they got doing an Internet search on the woman’s name, but during their data mining they didn’t have enough sense to realize they were mixing stats from 2 different people. Or maybe they did, I don’t know). I’ve had to deal with quite a few unpaid credit card bills over the last few years that the companies think belong to me, but they are either the other woman’s or the bogus accounts set up by her identity thieves. THAT is a nightmare that isn’t going to be over soon, and I’m more than 2 years into it.

    Usually, a person can use the civil courts in addition to other court avenues. Have you talked to an attorney? If you can pinpoint the thief, you may have civil recourse. That will depend on state law and a few other things, and you might not want to get the attention of the thief in that way – although he/she/they doesn’t seem to be very smart.

    I’ve been a professional tax preparer for decades. I’d suggest having as much of your tax prep done as possible during December, so that when you receive W-2’s in January you can slap that info in and file your return ASAP in 2014. Make sure you file electronically – do not mail.

    Another thing you may consider when it comes to filing your taxes next year: if you have a lot of schedules and forms, and if you have to wait on 1099’s or other info and usually file in March or April, DON’T. When you get your W-2’s in January, input that info into your tax prep software and file immediately. Then, when the other info needed for filing comes in, file an amended return.

    If you file right off the bat using W-2 info only, your return for the year is technically filed with the IRS, the info has hit your tax mod, and no one can get the jump on you by filing a bogus return. Filing an amended return isn’t going to hurt a thing, and doing it this way may save you a lot of headache down the road if the thief tries to file first and succeeds.

    Also, check and see if your W-2 info can be downloaded from your employer using an online or computer based tax prep software program. If it can, talk to your employer about putting some sort of lock on your wage info, if it can be done. If the thief has your employer name and SSN, and your wage info is available for download, they can access that W-2 info with a few clicks within the tax prep program. This could allow them to file before you do – if they are still attempting this next year.

    Good luck!
    Wendy recently posted..Save Money: Gas Mileage Tips That WorkMy Profile

    • Thanks for the tax advice – so far that is what our tax guy had advised as well. It’s more work for him, but he’s great and is willing to do it for us.

      As for the “not a crime” bit. The IRS views tax fraud as a crime where they are the victim, not the person whose identity is stolen. In that regard since there was no money stolen from the IRS they can say there was no crime against them. (Though shouldn’t attempted crimes be just as punishable?? But I digress…).

      As for the police woman, she was 100% incorrect. ID fraud is a felony plain and simple in Florida. The more times you do it or the more money you get the greater the severity of the felony, but perpetrating identity fraud even once without success is a felony.

      • I think one problem is that the police are unsophisticated and unprepared for this type of crime. It’s easy for them to hand out a speeding ticket or arrest a drunk. Cyber crime is a whole new ball game.

        Seems to me that the cops should have someone devoted to cyber crime, even a whole department for a big jurisdiction. The problem is only going to get worse.
        Mr. 1500 recently posted..Movin’ on DownMy Profile

  • Makes me want do disappear from the internet so badly. People can get so much information about you now. Scary…so scary. Plus, you have to use your social security for everything. Illogical system!
    Savvy Financial Latina recently posted..Libraries are Amazing!My Profile

  • Oh my gosh, I’m sorry to hear about this happening a second time to you! I would be just as livid, and that’s really crappy that everyone’s passing the buck. At least the thieves were dumb enough to file way after the deadline, though why in the heck would they even use your email?? I will take notes on your next post on how to prevent some vulnerabilities to protect yourself. :/
    anna recently posted..Becoming a CurmudgeonMy Profile

    • My email is firstlast@gmail, so if they’re needing to come up with legitimate looking user names to fill out 100 different tax returns in a night, choosing something like that seems pretty reasonable.

      There was also an attempt to hack into the email address a little later, which I presume is related, but may not be.

  • While this must have been incredibly frustrating to endure, thank you for sharing your experience here.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Buy No Thing Month UpdateMy Profile

  • That’s ugly! I can’t believe nobody would step up to the plate (well…actually I CAN believe it, but I really don’t want to….). Thank goodness for the stupidity of the criminals, huh? Otherwise, who knows what the “authorities” would have done?

    Speaking of stupid criminals, in my hometown two guys tried to rob a bank by going through the drive through window. They told the woman they had a gun and would shoot her (she was behind bullet-proof glass). She pretended to be filling the canister with cash the entire time the cops were on the way. Brilliant!
    Joe @ Stacking Benjamins recently posted..Barf Bags, Hard Rock Glasses and Beatles’ Records – Investing in CollectiblesMy Profile

    • Haha, thank goodness for the stupidity of most criminals. Did you ever have access to research through SNL financial? I did years ago and one of their banking research analysts would compose a brief every month or two on the stupidest bank robberies from around the country. Can’t find what they were called now (they were behind a paywall and this was 5 years ago – and eternity in Internet time) but they were hilarious and true!

  • Wow, that sounds like a complete pain. It’s crazy that no one is willing to help you out and that they keep sending you somewhere else. I’ve heard that identity fraud is a huge ordeal and I’m just glad I haven’t had to deal with it yet. It’s kind of sad that you can take all the necessary precautions and still get your identity stolen.
    Jake @ Common Cents Wealth recently posted..Where Dave Ramsey is WrongMy Profile

  • No apologies for the rant necessary! I could not agree with you more. Thanks!

  • Ugh, I am so sorry to hear this is happening to you again! It’s so horrible the lengths people will go to. As if having your identity stolen isn’t anxiety-inducing enough, then you have to deal with no one wanting to listen to you and the possibility that this will continue to haunt you. I’d be so paranoid, and that’s not a good way to live :(. I hope this headache goes away soon, and I am looking forward to your tips! Especially after three people in my work place shared that their debit card information was stolen last week…None are sure how.
    E.M. recently posted..How Do You View Bonuses?My Profile

  • I am so sorry to hear that. I am amazed with the trouble that people go through to try to steal someone else’s identity. Get a job?
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..What the “Red Wedding” Can Teach Us About MoneyMy Profile

  • trudy

    I used to think that if you reported a crime to the police, they did something. That was before my apartment was robbed when I lived in Cambridge, Mass., and the police didn’t even take fingerprints, even though the burglar had left clearly visible dirty handprints on white furniture.

    • Oh that would frustrate me to no end! We had a friend that had his condo broken into and he found the thief’s keys (and a cold brewski) sitting on his desk. The thief must have been surfing the web and bolted with my friend’s laptop when he came home, leaving his keys behind. The keys had all sorts of those fabs for various memberships (gym, grocery store, etc) and the cops didn’t investigate anything. How hard would it have been to go into a gym and have them swipe the membership card and see whose name pops up?

  • Wow, that’s sounds messy and awful. I hope it won’t happen t us. I can only imagine the stress judging by your story here.It’s even more frustrating that you feel powerless that you can’t do anything about it and no one seems to be cooperating with you.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted..Maximum 401k Contribution for 2013My Profile

  • ml

    another tax idea is to reduce your withholdings so you have a liablity. take the extra money each check and put it to savings. that way there is no refund to file for. I target paying 93% of my due tax during the year and make an estimated payment 1/15 of the following year if I fall short.

    • That’s definitely a thought. We’ll consider it. We don’t aim for a refund – the last two years we’ve owed $800 one year, and had a $500 refund the other, but maybe we can adjust it so we’re a little more consistently below if this continues to be an issue.

  • Oh my goodness… what a mess. Thank you for sharing this information with us. Looking forward to your what to do updates.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..When will we leave a sharply worded comment on your post?My Profile

  • Wow, this is quite the epic saga. It sounds so frustrating that a police force wont just take on the case (great diagram). I have a feeling the next post is going to be about how you are turning into a vigilante fighting tax fraud under the cover of darkness. Good luck!
    CashRebel recently posted..The World’s Greatest $1 Ice Cream SandwichMy Profile

  • What an awful headache! Sorry to hear you’re having to deal with this hassle.

    If you can’t even get the cops to do anything about it, well…no wonder identity fraud is rampant. Sounds like a pretty easy gig. From the perp’s point of view, that is.
    Funny about Money recently posted..Diet News, E-book NewsMy Profile

  • […] Planting our Pennies: Identity Fraud – The Gift That Keeps On Taking […]

  • I swear it seems to be happening more and more. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this again. I have someone create a credit card in my name from those blank checks that come with credit card offers. It was a pain to fix, but in the end it was OK. I always tear them up now. The truth is you can never be 100% protected. You just do your best.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Link Love/Week in Review 6/21/13My Profile

  • Lucky those people are so dumb. Did they not think you would get an email if they used your address? I’ve never had anything like this happen, but I did have an employee from Hell hack into my personal email right before she was going to be fired. I usually communicated with the office manager that way so we didn’t have to talk about it in the office. We always wondered how she knew everything that was coming. She also sent things to other employees from my account to try and rile everyone up. This is illegal, just like stealing mail, but the police declined to do anything because they said it couldn’t be proven.

    It is also ironic that the government has all this information about ways to protect your identity, yet they are the last ones that still use your social security number for everything. I’m surprised more mailboxes aren’t ripped off during tax season. You’d have everything you need to start a new identity.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Why Everyone Needs a BucketMy Profile

  • […] Identity Fraud: The Gift That Keeps on Taking at Planting Our Pennies. Even stupid criminals can reek havoc. […]

  • MomofTwoPreciousGirls

    Never ID theft, but someone used my credit card info once. I found out because they ordered plane tickets…in my name…which were mailed to my address. Hooray for the stupidity of criminals is right!

    Sorry you are dealing with all this…it sucks!

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