LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- Billions of dollars are stolen each year in a scam that is easy to pull off. If you're a taxpayer, you're one of the victims.
In this Rip-Off Alert, how a letter carrier saved the day to uncover a huge scam.
Richard Russo has been a letter carrier for 13 years and knows the people who live on his route. So, he was suspicious when he started seeing one address getting multiple treasury checks with different names.
"I was delivering the mail and noticed the names did not match the people who lived at the house,” Russo said. “I started collecting the checks and brought them back to the office."
"This is an ID theft investigation that started off with perpetrators stealing or buying people’s Social Security numbers, then file false W-2 forms to the victim attached to that Social Security numbers," said U.S. Postal Inspector Cheryl Swyers.
With that information, scam artists can file for a fraudulent tax refund. Because the U.S. Treasury check has to be issued to a specific address, thieves either pay an accomplice to pick up the check or pick it up themselves.
"Actually at one time every house on one street was getting one, and they were all fraudulent names," Russo said.
Where do thieves get the stolen IDs? They get them from black market lists or by bribing an employee with access to a big database. They even troll underground websites. Inspectors say Puerto Rican residents appear to be a target.
"Puerto Rican residents are not required to fill out federal tax returns if they have not worked outside Puerto Rico within the last year,” Swyers said. “They are only required to fill out state returns."
Experts say the scam is easy to pull off, especially with electronic filing. The IRS does not cross-check all returns against employer payroll records before a refund is issued.
"One day particular day I would have 10 checks, then 10 checks maybe 20,” Russo said. “In all I had $900,000 worth of bogus checks."
Last year alone, $6.2 billion was lost nationwide. Taxpayers are victims in this scam, along with the victim whose Social Security Number and information was compromised. Inspectors warn citizens if they receive mail with someone else's name to return it to the post office or to their mail carrier.