Earlier this week, Kevin Brown was sentenced to eleven years in prison for masterminding an income tax identity theft operation that stole the identities of 130 people and filed phony income tax returns in their names in an attempt to steal more than 20 million dollars in bogus refunds. In May of 2016 Marc A. Bell, a juvenile justice worker was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the income tax identity theft ring which operated out of a Washington D.C. barbershop owned by Brown. Bell used his position at the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services to steal the Social Security numbers and other personal information of juvenile offenders which he provided to Brown, who used the information to file phony income tax returns with counterfeit W-2s to claim the phony refunds. In addition to the juvenile offenders personal information, Brown used stolen information of the elderly and drug addicts in his scam.
This case again emphasizes that regardless of how protective you are of your personal information, most importantly, your Social Security number, which is the key to identity theft, you are only as secure as the places that have your personal information. This case also serves as a reminder to limit the places that do have your Social Security number. Many companies, agencies and institutions, particularly medical facilities, routinely ask you to provide your Social Security number when they have no need for it. A good practice to follow is to inquire as to providing another type of identifying number such as your driver’s license rather than giving your Social Security number when it is not needed. Some people have dealt with companies that don’t have a legitimate need for your Social Security number, but still require you to provide it by giving a different number. A popular number used for this purpose over the years has been former President Richard Nixon’s Social Security number which was readily available on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File until recently. That number is 567-68-0515. Of course, I do not recommend that you use it.
It is also important to remember that the best way to defeat an income tax identity thief is to file your income tax return early, before an income tax identity thief can file one using your Social Security number.