State attorney Angela Corey (podium) speaks to the media about a multi-agency identity theft bust that nabbed 17 suspected ID thieves. Joining her are assistant state attorney Joe Licandro (far left), Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul Elliott of the Secret Service (second from left), and Special Agent in Charge James Robnett with the IRS (far right)
State attorney Angela Corey along with members of the Secret Service and IRS announcing they’ve busted 17 people for stealing hundreds of identities in at least four different states.
"Operation Zig Zag" was the joint effort between the state attorney's office, the IRS, the Secret Service, and other law enforcement agencies that netted them the 17 suspects, all of whom played a particular role in the ring. The thieves stole at least 185 identities through banks, a hospital, and a credit card company, filed fraudulent tax returns in their names, and then cashed the refund checks, which Corey says averaged $7,500.
"This investigation has zigged and zagged all over the place, geographically and with regard to the people involved," Corey explained at a Thursday news conference at her office in downtown Jacksonville. She said the investigation crossed state lines and turned up victims in Florida, New York, New Hampshire, and Virginia.
The investigation began when Vystar Credit Union began noticing irregularities involving IRS refund checks, specifically that multiple checks were being deposited to single accounts, and that the people who were supposedly depositing those checks didn't live in Jacksonville. Corey says each refund check was worth $7,500 on average, and it's taxpayer money too.
"When they file these fraudulent returns, it's money coming directly from the taxpayer...it's not somebody cheating on their taxes. This is total theft of government money, taxpayer money," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul Elliott with the Secret Service.
Assistant State Attorney Joe Licandrio added that the victims targeted were people who would not normally file tax returns and who wouldn't know if someone was filing for them, like children, the elderly, and even the deceased.
Corey and the other law enforcement officials says this serves as a reminder to always keep an eye on your personal funds and accounts. They say in the digital world we live in, stealing someone's ID is much easier than it was in the past. They're asking you to remember to regularly monitor your bank accounts and credit cards for transactions you did not approve. If you see any suspicious activity in your account, call your bank immediately.
If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, the IRS has a program in place to help identify victims and prosecute thieves. You can download a form to identify yourself as a victim to the IRS. You can learn more about identity theft at the IRS' Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft as well.
You can see mug shots of each of the victims in the photo gallery linked on the left of the page.