Nearly 500 people in Iredell County fell prey to a scam involving income tax returns this year.

Many of those reports were made in February as folks began filing their taxes electronically only to learn someone else had already filed using their social security number, said Iredell Sheriff Darren Campbell.

When the traditional tax filing deadline of April 15 arrived, the reports slowed considerably but have not disappeared altogether, said Lt. Allen Sipes, supervisor of the ICSO Economic Crime Unit.

Some people filing extensions also learned their data had been compromised, he said.

While most of the early filers were expecting a refund, those filing later usually owe money to the IRS, he said.

Sipes said the total potential monetary loss is nearly $2 million.

Folks due a refund will still get their money back, but it will take several months, he said. The IRS indicated refunds will come in about 180 days after the fraud report is filed.

The sheriff’s office took nearly 400 of these reports between January and mid-May. Campbell said 374 people reported being victimized by this scam, which is difficult, if not impossible, to trace.

Cases tough to solve

Most scams, ranging from the Nigerian email scam to tax fraud, originate overseas, where U.S. law enforcement has little or no jurisdiction, Sipes said. The refunds sent to the fraudsters, he said, are usually loaded onto pre-paid debit cards and those are untraceable.

The Mooresville Police Department investigated 44 cases of tax identity fraud and the Troutman Police Department took in seven reports this year.

Sgt. Corey Richard, investigator for the Troutman Police Department, said one of the TPD’s own was victimized by the tax identify fraud scheme twice. “It happened to one of our officers two years in a row,” he said.

The Statesville Police Department is investigating 71 cases of tax and unemployment fraud.

Unemployment fraud, said Statesville Police Chief Tom Anderson, is similar to the tax identity fraud in that the scammer uses someone else’s name to apply for benefits.

The MPD has taken 10 such reports and Troutman has received four.

Sipes said scams comprise the biggest caseload for the Economic Crime Unit and, in most cases, they are difficult, if not impossible, to solve. He said many of these scams originate in foreign countries, making investigating and finding those responsible tough.

Seniors targeted

Sipes said the elderly seem to be a primary target of scammers, from the grandparent scam -- in which a grandchild claims to be in trouble and needs cash immediately -- to promises of lottery winnings if the victim provides a credit or debit card number to pay the “taxes.”

Recently, he said, an 85-year-old man reported receiving a call offering a free government grant to the tune of $8,500. “I got the exact same call,” Sipes said. The caller directed Sipes and the man who reported the call to send a pre-paid card to cover “fees."

Sipes said the man didn’t fall victim to the scheme, and he hopes others will follow this man’s example by not sending money and reporting the incident to law enforcement. He said the sheriff’s office receives about three to four reports a day of some type of scam.

Sipes and Richard as well as crime prevention officers at the SPD and MPD present programs on scams for any type of group, and with education, Campbell said, it is hoped fewer people will be victimized.

Anyone interested in a program on scams can call the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office at 704-878-3180; the Statesville Police Department at 704-878-3442; the Troutman Police Department at 704-528-7610; or the Mooresville Police Department at 704-658-9016.

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