Operation Rainmaker: A Tax Fraud Epidemic

Earlier this year, Tampa police detectives realized a decrease in the amount of drug dealers on street corners. Instead of feeling relieved, detectives became worried – this was the first red flag that something was up.

Where was everyone? How were they making money? According to a recent investigation, they were allegedly involved in a money-spinning tax fraud business bringing in $130 million. Instead of putting themselves in danger on street corners, the individuals involved could do this job from the comfort of their own homes; all they needed was a laptop.

As reported by the Seminole Heights Patch, a suspect told Tampa Police Detective Sal Augeri, “Why would I take the risk to sell drugs and get busted when I can put $10,000 on a card and do it all day long from home while the cartoons are on?”

The operation was not sophisticated. The suspects allegedly would log onto sites like Ancestry.com, dig up information on victims (living and deceased) and eventually steal their identity. Another workaround was to buy the information from people who had access to social security numbers (prisons, businesses etc.).

After the information was obtained, the suspect could go to electronic tax filling applications like TurboTax, file a fraudulent claim and have the refund sent somewhere that was untraceable to the individual. Taxpayers soon discovered they could not claim their tax refunds because one had already been filed – this was the second red flag.

The third red flag, and the one that led to the entire investigation, was the fact that police officers were pulling over suspects and finding laptops and Green Dot credit cards.

Making any moves in the investigation was difficult because of the restrictions set by the IRS. The police had to find a way around the obstacles under a federal law that prevents law enforcement from gaining access to tax returns.

Tampa Police Department has joined forces with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Secret Service, the US Postal Inspection Service, the State Attorney’s Office 13th Judicial Circuit and the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. The investigation, named Operation Rainmaker, has resulted “…in $100 million in intercepted taxes, $5 million in recovered taxes and assets, and $25 million in stolen taxes.”

Although we are making progress in the Tampa area, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said, “My gut feeling is that this is happening throughout the United States.” This case is a classic example of why citizens must be vigilant in the protection of their personal identification information, especially for the elderly and their children.

There’s an App for That- US Senators Request to Ban DUI Checkpoint Alert Applications

There is literally an app for everything these days; a food guide, calorie counter, music streamer… DUI checkpoint finder? Applications such as “Trapster”, “PhantomAlert” and “iRadar” are driving alert applications that notify drivers of speed traps, red light cameras, school zones and DUI checkpoints.

These apps are facing scrutiny from US Senators specifically for the DUI checkpoint feature. Senators Harry Reid, Charles E. Shumer, Frank R. Lautenberg and Tom Udall wrote a letter to Apple asking for the applications to be banned unless altered so that the DUI feature is removed.

In the article, Senators Ask Apple to Pull DUI Checkpoint Apps, we are introduced to the argument of whether or not the application helps or hinders the safety of the public. Captain Paul Starks of the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department fears that the application will not stop people from drinking and driving but will only be used when people have been drinking and want to drive. He remarks,

“They’re only thinking of one consequence, and that’s being arrested. They’re not thinking of ending the lives of other motorists, pedestrians, other passengers in their cars or themselves.”

In the same article, Joe Scott, CEO and founder of PhantomAlert argues that they are doing the same thing police departments are doing to deter people from drinking and driving, the only difference is that the app puts awareness in real time. He stated that

“If they really understood what we are doing and aim to achieve, they would actually support us.”

So what it boils down to is whether or not this app is actually helping the safety of the public, or creating a tool that drunk drivers can use to dodge a DUI checkpoint and possible arrest. Could this be something that police officers and attorneys will have to start considering when investigating a DUI case?

The applications have not yet been removed but it will be interesting to see how Apple and other parties involved will respond.

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