Police: ID theft ring cost taxpayers hundreds of millions | Crime
TAMPA, Florida -- On Friday, Tampa police announced the arrest of 49 people as part of what they're calling "Operation Rainmaker."
Detectives call it an ID theft scam that is costing Tampa taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Police say it started with thieves stealing the social security numbers of dead and living people.
Logan Pennypacker is one of those people. He's a disabled 27-year-old whose parents say they couldn't have worked enough last year to earn a $2,300 tax refund.
But yet, police say Reginald Jennings put that amount in his pocket by stealing Pennypacker's identity.
"You feel violated as a taxpayer," said Pennypacker's father, Keith.
Once they had an identity, police say the thieves would file taxes online. Then they'd get a check or fully stocked ATM card in the mail, or in some cases the money would be directly deposited into their accounts.
Police say the group was able to figure out that if they filed for under $10,000, it would fly under the radar and rarely get investigated.
That's how investigators say they were able to buy expensive cars, jewelry, and other items all on the government's dime.
"The scheme is extraordinarily simple, yet it is incredibly lucrative," said U.S. Secret Service Agent John Joyce, "the word spread quickly and they have basically corrupted the tax filing system online."
It was so organized, detectives say, that the alleged ringleaders would hold classes in a hotel or a home to teach others how to do it.
"The problem is huge. It's not only in Tampa, Florida. It's across the nation," said Barney Morris, from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, "but in Tampa we seem to be the hotbed for this type of criminal activity."
Tampa police say their investigation is far from over and they believe a countless number of people are involved, both in the Bay area and around the country.
Police also tell 10 News they're working with the IRS to try to close the holes in the system that has allowed this to happen. The IRS declined to comment on the case Friday, with a spokesperson only telling 10 News they are concerned.
Also on Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced legislation aimed at preventing this type of fax fraud.
Nelson, chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility, hopes to make the penalties tougher, restrict public access to the social security numbers of deceased people, and improve the information sharing between local law enforcement and the IRS during investigations.