MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Millions of dollars are stolen every year in a scam that law enforcement officials say is easy to pull off -- and taxpayers are the victims.
Richard Russo has been a letter carrier for 13 years and knows the people who live on his route. So 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," Russo said.
"This is an ID theft investigation that started off with perpetrators stealing or buying people's (social security) numbers and then filing false W2 forms to the victim attached to those SS numbers," U.S. Postal Inspector Cheryl Swyers said.
With that information, scam artists can file for a fraudulent tax refund. Because the U.S. treasury check has to be issued to a specific address, thieves either pay an accomplice to pick up the check or pick it up themselves.
"Actually at one time every house on one street was getting one and they were all fraudulent names," Russo said.
Thieves get the stolen IDs 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," Swyers said.
Experts say the scam is easy to pull off -- especially with electronic filing.
"In all I had $900,000 worth of bogus checks," Russo said.
$6.2 billion was lost last year alone nationwide.
Taxpayers are victims in this scam, along with the victim whose social security information is compromised.
Inspectors warn citizens if they receive mail with someone else's name on it to return it to the post office or contact their mail carrier.