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Tax identity thieves prey on veterans' hospital patients

A volunteer at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla., is charged with stealing patients' identities and, along with another man, using the information to file fake income tax returns.

The fraudulent filings produced around $550,000 in refunds, according to federal court documents.

A U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida grand jury returned indictments against Ricardo Jacinto Rodriguez and Andropolis Jioberiti Mitchell. 

Tampa Veterans Hospital ID theft scheme defendants
Andropolis Jioberiti Mitchell, left, and Ricardo Jacinto Rodriguez are accused of stealing hospitalized veterans' identities and using them to file federal tax returns that produced fraudulent refund amounts.

Rodriguez allegedly used his volunteer position at the veterans' hospital to steal the identities. He then allegedly passed the info to Mitchell, who is accused of filing the federal returns and having the refund money loaded onto pre-paid debit cards.

The scheme, according to the indictment, occurred "on or about January 25, 2012," when Rodriguez allegedly stole patients' names and Social Security numbers from the hospital's official records.

Hospital officials say they have notified 106 patients whose personal information is believed to have been compromised. The hospital also is working with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Office of the Inspector General to identify any other potential victims.

We'll let the justice system run its course and determine if these guys are guilty or not. But I must say that regardless of who committed the crime, stealing the identities of our service men and women who are undergoing medical treatment is despicable.

Just the latest ID theft incident: At the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum in Dallas this summer, several sessions focused on identity theft and tax fraud.

"Florida is the capital of identity theft," said Martin Press during his presentation on working with victims of tax identity theft. "Tampa and Miami are duking it out for supremacy. The living, dead and ill in hospitals have been victims of identity theft. Debit card use is the trend of stolen IRS refunds."

The big issue in ID theft is information from health care providers, said the attorney from the Ft. Lauderdale office of Gunster. "They ask for your Social Security number, date of birth, address, family member names, employment information. No health care provider needs your Social Security number."

Wow! Press nailed it, at least in this latest Tampa tax ID theft case.

"Latest" is the operative word.

In July, employees at the Haley VA center and Tampa General Hospital were charged with stealing patients' identities for use in tax fraud schemes. The refunds issued in this case, say officials, came to more than $105,000.

In November 2012, three people were charged with filing around 225 fraudulent tax returns seeking more than $1.5 million in refund money. The trio, according to the charges, managed to collect $550,000. And some of the false returns used information stolen from patients at Florida Hospital Tampa.

Then there was the major realization back in the fall of 2011 that criminals in the Tampa area were turning to tax-related fraud because it was more lucrative, and safer, than dealing drugs.

Year-round tax fraud threats: Identity theft is one of the tax scams that the IRS says crops up year round.

You also should be on the look-out for phishing attempts that try to trick you into revealing personal or financial information.

And sometimes you can't even trust your tax preparer.

While most tax pros file honest and accurate returns for their clients, some dishonest return preparers skim a portion of the taxpayer's refund or charge inflated fees.

The IRS is increasing its efforts to fight tax-related identity theft. As for us taxpayers, the important first step in not becoming a victim is to be aware of the many possible tax ID threats.

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