MARCO ISLAND — Ask Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk what he’s done lately, and he has a good answer.
In the last 10 days, his economic crimes unit handled more than 600 cases of tax fraud. It’s one of the newest way criminals are geting their hands on people’s hard earned cash.
Rambosk described the scheme to more than 90 people attending “Lunch with the Chief” sponsored by the Marco Island Police Foundation Wednesday at Hideaway Beach’s Clubhouse.
Tax fraud starts with an information breach. It could be through the internet or by hackers breaking into credit card sites. With the information, miscreants file fraudulent tax documents in advance of unsuspecting citizens submitting their returns. The false returns always result in refunds.
When refunds are returned to the would-be taxpayers, they actually go to the perpetrators. False filers spend or launder the money, and by the time the crime is discovered, the perpetrators have disappeared.
Tax refunds are gone before lawful filers become aware they have ever been issued in someone else’s names, said Rambosk. It’s a tangle of federal paperwork and police investigations. Citizens who learn they have been defrauded should contact Collier County’s economic crimes unit for help.
Lost or stolen credit cards are being abused at breakneck speed, Rambosk reported. Thieves steal and resell credit information even before cardholders are aware there is a problem.
Thieves can sell a credit card number, and within 24 hours, it is being used in a foreign country, he said. Many of the stolen cards come from car thefts, a crime that has risen in the county in recent years.
“People think because our communities feel safe they can leave cars unlock with purses or valuables inside,” he said. “We have criminals that come into the county every day from east and north of us who do nothing but burgle cars.”
Burglarizing foreclosed homes is another crime of opportunity for out-of-county criminals. Damage and missing items cost homeowners and banks thousands of dollars and contribute to an already painful economic situation.
Rambosk said the economic slowdown may cause problems in adjudication. Currently, the courts are able to meet due process obligations, but like other government entities, the Clerk of Courts has experienced budget cuts that could result in backlogs.
The solution would be an economic turnaround, Rambosk said. His department has been able to weather financial tightening by closing one of its jails. Though a process with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the department identifies and returns illegal residents who are accused of crimes.
To date, ICE has been able to deport 2,800 area criminals identified through investigations by law enforcement agencies. In the last three-and-a-half years, 3,700 individuals have been removed from county jails.
“We’ve trained our corrections deputies to be able to investigate who’s here lawfully and who’s not,” Rambosk said. “When we ID them as illegal criminals, we give them to ICE for deportation and removal to their home countries.”