Florida worst for identity fraud for tax refunds

MIAMI — Despite efforts by federal officials to crack down on identity theft linked to hundreds of millions of dollars of fraudulently claimed tax refunds, southern Florida continues to lead the nation in such scams.

In the latest case, Freddie Howard, 56, of Davie, pleaded guilty on Thursday to mail-fraud charges after filing for fraudulent tax refunds totaling $22 million using a stolen identity and willing recruits.

Howard received $4.5 million in payments before being caught, and he faces up to 22 years in prison.

Identity theft in Florida reached “epidemic proportions” last year, according to the Justice Department.

Officials registered more than 190 complaints per 100,000 individuals. In Miami, the rate was nearly double at 340 complaints per 100,000.

Since an Identity Theft Tax Fraud Strike Force was created in August 2012, southern Florida prosecutors have charged 296 people with attempted stolen-identity refund fraud totaling $485.5 million and receiving $106 million in payments.

Using stolen names and Social Security numbers, criminals are filing phony electronic tax forms to claim refunds, exploiting a slow-moving federal bureaucracy to collect the money before the fraud is discovered by the victims or the IRS.

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