Richard Russo has been a letter carrier for 13 years and knows the people who live on his route.
“I was delivering the mail and noticed the names did not match the people who lived at the house,” he said.
He was suspicious when he started seeing one address getting multiple treasury checks with different names.
“I started collecting the checks and brought them back to the office,” said Russon.
“This is an ID theft investigation that started off with perpetrators stealing or buying peoples social security numbers, then file false W-2 forms to the victim attached to the social security numbers,” explained US Postal Inspector, Cheryl Swyers.
With that information, scam artists can file for a fraudulent tax refund. Because the US Treasury check has to be issued to a specific address, thieves either pay an accomplice to pick up the check, or they pick it up themselves.
“Actually at one time every house on one street was getting one and they were all fraudulent names,“ said Russo.
So where did thieves get the stolen ID's? From black market lists or by bribing an employee with access to a big database. They even troll "underground" websites. Inspectors say Puerto Rican Residents appear to be a target.
“Puerto Rican residents are not required to fill out federal tax returns IF they have not worked outside Puerto Rico within the last year. They are only required to fill out state returns,” explained Swyers.
Experts say the scam is easy to pull off, especially with electronic filing. The IRS does not cross-check all returns against employer payroll records before a refund is issued.
“One day, particular day, I would have 10 checks, then 10 Checks maybe 20. In all I had 900-thousand dollars’ worth of bogus checks,” said Russo.
Nationwide last year, $6.2 billion was lost. Taxpayers are the victims in this scam, along with the victim whose social security number and information is compromised. Inspectors warn citizens if they receive mail with someone else's name, to return it to the post office or their mail carrier.