Michael Bennett and William Joseph, two former National League Football players, were arrested by the FBI on Monday and are being charged with identity theft and tax-related fraud, the Miami Herald reports.
The two arrests were part of a larger crackdown on a group of people filing fake tax returns in order to steal victims' tax refunds.
Bennett was a running back drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001. Joseph was originally drafted as a defensive tackle by the New York Giants in 2003 and played for the Oakland Raiders between 2008 and 2010. Louis Gachelin, who was briefly on the New England Patriots' roster, was also arrested in connection with the scheme.
Taxpayer identity theft is a growing problem.
In 2011, the IRS halted 262,000 fake returns and $1.4 billion in refunds because of identity theft -- a large increase from the 50,000 falsified returns the IRS saw in 2010.
Not only does tax-related identity theft steal money from the federal government and cause undo frustration for those scammed, it also delayed refunds for legitimate taxpayers.
The Miami Herald points out that stealing someone's tax refund is a relatively simple feat, due to lax security and oversight on behalf of the IRS:
The IRS does not actually match tax returns to the W-2 income forms that employers file until months after the filing season ends on April 15... That’s way too late to catch identity thieves who file false returns in others’ names early in the year.
All that's needed to steal a tax return is the victim's name and social security number, along with a new address and bank account. Oftentimes a scam is not discovered until the victim tries to legitimately file a tax return and is told that a return has already been filed in his or her name.
The Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act, introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), seeks to curb tax fraud by making it a felony that carries up to five years in prison. The law would also help fund tax fraud prevention initiatives.