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$1.4 million tax refund stolen by ID thief

Donald-bren_ITAC-2 The man pictured at left is Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co., a Southern California private real estate firm.

Bren's net worth is estimated at $12 billion. Forbes recently ranked him as the 45th wealthiest person in the world.

Alleged-Bren-ID-thief-imposter_USAttyLA-2 The man pictured at right is…. Nobody knows this guy's name, at least nobody at the Cerritos, Calif., branch of East West Bank.

It was at that financial institution that the man at right opened several new accounts as Donald Bren. The photo is from the bank's surveillance video.

Yep, even though the two men were definitely not separated at birth, the bank customer, using an apparently fake Social Security number and driver's license, allegedly stole Bren's identity.

But that was just the beginning.

Then he allegedly stole the Orange County real estate magnate's $1.4 million federal tax refund and deposited the money in the accounts.

If the tax money had stayed at the bank branch, things might be different. But, according to a criminal complaint filed in May and made public last week by the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles, the alleged ID and tax refund thief moved most of Bren's IRS money to other bank accounts.

The criminal complaint didn't say how the faux Bren got his hands on the billionaire's IRS refund.

Everyone's a target: While Bren and others at his rarefied income level are an identity thief's dream target, any of us can become victims.

And taxes are often used as a hook by con artists.

They know we already are a little spooked by the IRS, so they take advantage of that fear by sending out e-mail messages saying that the feds need more information from us.

Tax scammers also count on our greed. In many cases, the e-mails say Uncle Sam has more money for us, again as soon as we provide some vital personal and financial information.

Don't fall for such false tax-related scams!

The IRS does not contact taxpayers by e-mail. If you get such a missive, forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

You also can call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 to determine whether the IRS really is trying to contact you.

The IRS has more advice on how to avoid ID theft and tax scams at Top 10 Things Every Taxpayer Should Know about Identity Theft and Five Tax Scams to Avoid this Summer.

You also might want to check out ways to protect yourself by perusing the ol' blog's collection of tax scam posts.

Bren photo courtesy ITAC Blog
Bren impostor photo courtesy U.S. Attorney via OC Register

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