An Arkansas mail carrier has pleaded guilty to identity theft related charges in federal court and is facing a sentence of up to ten years in federal prison. Michael Hearns conspired with six other identity thieves who filed phony income tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of people whose Social Security numbers they stole. Using counterfeit W-2s, the identity thieves claimed large refunds, which were to be paid through debit cards and checks. This is where Hearns came in. The phony tax returns used addresses on Hearns’ postal route so when the fraudulent refunds were mailed by the IRS, they were retrieved by Hearns.
Income tax identity continues to be a major problem for the IRS although the situation has improved somewhat this year. The key to protecting yourself from becoming a victim of income tax identity theft is to not only protect the privacy and security of your Social Security number as best you can, but also to file your income tax return as early as possible to prevent an identity thief from filing one and getting a refund before you do.