Here’s another reason to guard your identity with your life.Two Long Island, N.Y. women were just indicted for allegedly using identities stolen via Craigslist ads to file false tax returns and take out loans, according to the Nassau County District Attorney General’s office.
Prosecutors claim Susan Pemberton and her 22-year old niece, Cynthia Sibert, lured victims from 30 states by asking for personal and financial information in ads offering jobs and new apartments.
“These scammers preyed on the elderly and people who were looking for honest work and affordable housing, and then stole money from the pockets of every taxpayer,” said District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
Once unwitting consumers answered their bogus listings, the ladies used the stolen names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers to request more than $500,000 in fraudulent tax refunds between February 2010 and October 2011, according to prosecutors.
And the fraud went far beyond the Web. Sibert, a home health care aide, also allegedly used the names of some of the elderly patients in her care to open credit cards. In all, the pair made off with $75,000 in stolen bank loans and credit cards.
The scheme began to unravel when victims complained of poor credit scores and trouble receiving tax refunds because they had apparently already been filed.
When police finally raided the defendants’ homes, they found notes and receipts in documents labelled “BIG FAT REFUND.”
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S. Last November, a new paper in The Nilson report dubbed the U.S. the world’s credit fraud leader, with 47% of the world’s debit and credit fraud occurring on our shores.
To protect yourself, follow these tips from Your Money contributor Justine Rivero:
1. Get free credit monitoring. Credit monitoring is one of the best safeguards against identity theft and fraud. Services alert you to changes in your credit report, such as suspicious activity or new accounts that could be red flags of identity fraud.
2. Password-protect your smartphone. Your smartphone stores a rich cache of your information, especially if you use your phone for social networking, mobile banking apps or online commerce.
3. Be wary of where you use electronic devices. If you use your tablet PC, laptop or mobile phone in a public area, data on your electronic device is susceptible to identity thieves.
4. Consider a smart card. Smart cards are a new generation of credit cards that feature EMV chip technology with stronger protection against identity theft, such as adding a unique PIN number to make it more difficult for thieves to counterfeit and abuse your credit.
5. Guard your financial accounts. Make a habit of checking your credit and debit statements online at least once a week to monitor for suspicious activity that could signal identity fraud.
For more tips and information, visit the Federal Trade Commission online.
And if you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
The people you entrust with your taxes could rob you too. See 9 easy ways to spot a tax preparer scam >