(Newsroom America) -- Federal charges have been filed against 40 people in 20 separate cases dealing with thousands of stolen identities and millions of dollars of fraudulent identity theft tax filings.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida had the highest rate of identity theft in the United States in 2011. While identity theft in Florida ranks highest in the United States, the identity theft rate in Miami has reached near epidemic proportions.
Florida's rate of 178 complaints per 100,000 residents—the highest in the United States—is dwarfed by the Miami rate of 324.1 complaints per 100,000 residents.
Moreover, a September 2012 report by the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) determined that Florida has the highest rate of stolen identity tax refund fraud in the United States.
The report identified 74,496 potentially fraudulent returns filed in Miami resulting in more than $280 million in bogus refunds. Miami’s per capita number of false returns based on identity theft was 46 times the national average, and its per capita SITR fraud dollar value was more than 70 times the national average.
This problem is projected to grow: the TIGTA report estimates that the IRS could issue as much as $21 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the next five years.
In an attempt to combat the rising wave of stolen identity refund scams, and armed with newly enhanced investigative and prosecutorial tools under the Department of Justice’s Tax Directive 144, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida established the South Florida Identity Theft Tax Fraud Strike Force.
The members of the strike force include IRS-CI, U.S. Secret Service, FBI, USPS, City of Aventura Police Department, Miami-Dade Police Department, North Miami Beach Police Department and the SSA-OIG. The focus of the strike force is to investigate and prosecute SITR fraud in the Southern District of Florida.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, said the arrests just announced were the most recent results of their investigative efforts.
"So far this year, we have charged a total of 79 individuals responsible for almost $40 million in fraudulent tax refunds obtained through identity theft. The cases being investigated and prosecuted include victims from all walks of life, including police officers, potential U.S. Marine recruits, members of the Armed Forces, holocaust survivors, school children, hospital patients, the elderly and infirm, incarcerated prisoners, and even the dead.
"In addition, our cases show a troubling change in the nature of these cases, away from traditional white collar criminals to more violent criminals, like gang members and narco-traffickers, who are using stolen identity refund scams to fuel their other, violent, criminal activities. We will continue to crack down on identity thieves who are lining their pockets with our tax dollars and using violence to obtain the personal identification information of others," he said.