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The Real Deal: Local addresses used to scam IRS
COLONIEIt's tax time and if you're getting a big refund, chances are you've been checking the mail daily for it but it's very possible someone else has been checking your mailbox for their big refund too. The US Postal Inspector along with Colonie and Niskayuna Police have been alerted to a tax scam that's been happening locally and homeowners are on high alert.
"I was delivering the mail and noticed the names did not match the people who lived at the house," says Richard Russo a US letter carrier who has been on the job for nearly 15 years. He knows the people along his route so when he started seeing mailings from the IRS to their homes but addressed to people he'd never heard of, he became suspicious. "I started collecting the checks and brought them back to the office," Russo says.
But some of these checks have made it into local mailboxes. "This is an ID theft investigation that started off with perpetrators stealing or buying people's social security numbers," says US Postal Inspector Cheryl Swyers who has investigated similar scams like this in the past. The scammers use the stolen social security numbers to file bogus tax returns. Because a US Treasury check has to be issued to a specific address, those running the scheme normally look for an easily accessible neighborhood and pick an address to have it sent to. They then either pay an accomplice to pick up the check or they pick it up themselves.
One woman in Colonie reported seeing a man in a white car open her neighbor's mailbox three times in one day before the neighbor pulled out one of these checks the following day. A few other folks in the neighborhood told investigators they too had received a check at their home addressed to someone else. Postal inspectors say the names on the checks tend to be Hispanic, "Puerto Rican residents are not required to fill out tax returns if they have not worked outside of Puerto Rico within the last year, they're only required to fill out state returns," says Swyers which makes them more likely to become a victim of this particular federal scam. But really, we're all victims because the IRS is shelling out cash to these scammers. While some of the money gets intercepted, "I would have 10 checks one day, then another 10 checks, then maybe 20...In all, they told me I had $900,000 worth of bogus checks," says Russo. But that's only one route, in one small part of one town.
The scammers tend to come looking for the checks during normal business hours because they think that less people will be around to spot them. If you get one of these checks, don't just stick it back in your mailbox with the flag up, that'll just let the scammer know their check has arrived. If you can, bring it directly to your post office of hold on to it until you can speak with your carrier in person and return it to them.
Additional Information from the US Postal Inspector on what to do if you see someone ruffling in your mailbox:
- Report it immediately! Call the police, Postal Inspector or your local Post Office. If we can prevent the fraudulent checks from getting into individual mail boxes, we can put an end to the scam and deter carrier robberies.
- If a customer is ever approached by a person and asked to accept a mailing at your residence, or asked to tape a fictitious name to your mailbox, dont do it!
- Carriers also watch for tax refund checks in names that dont generally get mail at a particular address or multiple checks addressed to the same address or apartment. They also watch for change-of-address orders, specifically requesting the forwarding of tax refund checks.
In addition to the scam, the fraudsters present a danger to Letter Carriers too. In some cases, when a scammer can't get access to the fraudulent tax return checks, they have resorted to robbing carriers of their Arrow keys, using the stolen keys to retrieve tax checks from delivery addresses.