Tax-refund fraud: filing someone else's return to rip them off

In the New York Times, Lizette Alvarez reports on a "tsumani of fraud" in the form of tax-refund identity theft. Using only a very little information, crooks file tax returns in their victims' names (the IRS helpfully corrects any mistakes they make in the particulars), then collect the victims' tax refunds:

The criminals, some of them former drug dealers, outwit the Internal Revenue Service by filing a return before the legitimate taxpayer files. Then the criminals receive the refund, sometimes by check but more often though a convenient but hard-to-trace prepaid debit card.

The government-approved cards, intended to help people who have no bank accounts, are widely available in many places, including tax preparation companies. Some of them are mailed, and the swindlers often provide addresses for vacant houses, even buying mailboxes for them, and then collect the refunds there.

…J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, testified before Congress this month that the I.R.S. detected 940,000 fake returns for 2010 in which identity thieves would have received $6.5 billion in refunds. But Mr. George said the agency missed an additional 1.5 million returns with possibly fraudulent refunds worth more than $5.2 billion.

With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often

(via Schneier)