Gangs are moving into the high-tech world of tax fraud, targeting South Florida residents to get back returns in their names, police say.
North Miami Beach Police Detective Denise Love is out to stop what she calls an epidemic this tax season, as gangs file returns for unsuspecting victims.
Ironically, Detective Love is a victim too — scammed by those she’s trying to catch.
“I never felt that it couldn’t happen to me. I just always hoped that it wouldn’t,” she said. “But this time I wasn’t so lucky.”
When police spotted Arthy Icart, he was using a laptop to get into tax preparation websites and had a list of individuals’ personal identifications, police said.
Nearby, Charlton Escarmant had with him a host of prepaid debit cards. Police say the two were part of an operation to file phony tax returns and get the money sent back to them on the debit cards.
Police said Escarmant possessed other people’s personal information and was part of a scheme to defraud.
Icart, who was also arrested, told police "I’m not the boss. I’ll take the blame ’cause I can’t talk ’cause I’ll get killed. There’s a lot of money in there."
Once a fraudulent return is filed, victims like Love can’t get their legitimate tax return refunds for about a year.
“I filed my taxes and my tax guy called me the next day and said somebody else filed for you,” she said.
At the Secret Service’s headquarters in South Florida, agents are part of a task force where they work with local police to try to stop tax frauds. The agents say this region is one the top places in the entire country where the fraud occurs.
Special Agent in Charge Paula Reid, who heads the Secret Service here, said “the hardcore criminals have found a much easier, less violent way of getting more money quicker.”
“It’s harder to track them because you don’t know who the actual person is using the card,” she said.
Escarmant, 28, pleaded not guilty. His court case is proceeding on two felony counts of fraud, while hundreds more were disposed of with no action, according to Miami-Dade court records.
Icart also pleaded not guilty, and his charges were ultimately reduced to a misdemeanor, authorities said.
For tips on protecting your tax return from fraud, visit these websites:
You can also call the Secret Service task force at 305-863-5050.