TUPELO • People across the region are learning they victims of identity theft from an unusual source — the Internal Revenue Service.
Over the last several weeks, people have been getting IRS tax forms saying they either received $200 from Chase Bank or thousands in unemployment benefits. But in most cases, they actually received neither. Instead, these people have had their identities stolen in a pair of separate scams that gained traction in 2020.
“If it wouldn’t have been for the tax forms, many of these people would have never known they were victims,” said Sgt. Paul Hendrix, a detective with the Tupelo Police Department.
In the Chase Bank scam, organized criminals have stolen thousands of identities to create fake accounts and take advantage of the $200 the worldwide bank is offering for new checking account customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, criminals used widespread job loss as cover to file fake unemployment claims to bilk the state government.
Many people learned their names had been used fraudulently last year and reported it to authorities at the time. But that information is just now getting to some people because Chase Bank and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security are sending out the required forms so people can accurately fill out their taxes for the IRS.
Luther Davis, chief of the benefit payment control and integrity unit at the MDES, said his agency has seen an unusually high volume of calls and complaints in recent weeks.
“Most folks get alerted to it when they get the tax form,” Davis said. “They start asking, ‘Where did this come from. I didn’t file for unemployment.'”
Hendrix and fellow TPD detective Adam Sanford have worked hundreds of Chase Bank cases since last summer. The number of cases slowed down as the scam moved into different states, but the officers began seeing new cases in February when tax forms started going out.
“The Chase Bank cases are a continuation of the investigation already ongoing,” Hendrix said. “As far as the unemployment, we are seeing a definite uptick. Because of COVID and the pandemic, a lot of people were losing their jobs last year and a lot of people were filing unemployment. Unfortunately, there are criminals out there who will take advantage of other people’s pain.”
For anyone who was a victim of one of these frauds and received a tax form, they will not be responsible for additional taxes. However, there are some things they need to do.
“If you have been a victim of fraud, the first step is to get a police report from your local law enforcement agency,” Sanford said. “The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has their own investigators, but they also require a police report.”
Davis agreed, adding that the agency’s website (mdes.ms.gov) has a lot of information on how to file a complaint.
“It also lists the documentation you need to get to file a complaint,” Davis said. “You can also upload an affidavit to the Attorney General’s office and also upload police reports.”
Some of the unemployment fraud has been local, perpetrated by someone who knew the victim or physically got access to their identity. But officials believe most of it, like the Chase Bank scam, is part of an organized group that has stolen identities, including names, birth dates and Social Security numbers.
“I feel the unemployment fraud is also going to come back to some organized group,” Hendrix said. “When you have one business where several employees of the company are victims, that is not going to be random. It will be someone who has used computer technology to gather information from the internet or by hacking.”
The Tupelo police have actually been on the forefront of the Chase Bank investigation. Since a story on the scam ran in the Daily Journal in October, detectives have received calls from across the country.
“Recently, there have been calls from Pennsylvania and both North and South Carolina. I’m sure it will be spreading to other states, if it hasn’t already,” Hendrix said.
But the detectives have gone about as far as they can tracking down information. The Attorney General’s Office and the Secret Service have begun working the case as well.
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