A Las Vegas man caught with a backpack of 200 stolen identities and 250 prepaid debit cards was sentenced Wednesday to more than five years in prison. Prosecutors said he was engaged in a scheme to file false tax returns using the stolen identities.
The Department of Justice said Josiah Ntekume used the identities to establish the prepaid accounts. His co-conspirators allegedly provided him with the names, addresses, birth dates and social security numbers necessary to set up these accounts. Then, the co-conspirators allegedly caused fraudulent tax refunds to be deposited into those accounts.
Ntekume was arrested in 2012. At the time of his arrest, prosecutors say he had 250 prepaid debit cards with more than $200,000 in fraudulent refunds loaded on them. He also had stolen identities for nearly 200 more people that were used to file false returns or establish more prepaid debit cards.
Ntekume pleaded guilty last December to aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, theft of government property, and fraud in connection with access devices.
He was sentenced to 65 months in prison Wednesday. Ntekume will also have to pay $221,599 in restitution.
The Department of Justice did not specify how these identities were stolen, but it's a good reminder this tax season to take care of protecting your personal information. Identity thieves can use it to file fraudulent returns and get your refund before you have a chance to file it yourself.
Here are some tips from the IRS to protect yourself against identity theft:
- File as early as possible. Your tax return is tied to your social security number. A return can only be filed once using that number, so thieves are hoping you procrastinate.
- Always use security software. This software should have firewall and anti-virus protections.
- Use strong, unique passwords. Also consider using a password manager.
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves. These scammers pose as legitimate organizations such as banks, credit card companies, and even the IRS.
- Do not click on links in unsolicited emails or messages from unknown senders. Also, people shouldn't click on links or download attachments from emails that seem suspicious, even if they appear to be from senders they know.
- Protect personal information and that of any dependents. For example, you shouldn't routinely carry around their Social Security cards. You should also make sure tax records are secure.
- Don't fall for phone calls from someone claiming to be able to cancel your social security number. Hang up. If you get a robocall voicemail with a threat like this, do not return it.
- Don't fall for unsolicited emails with reminders about your tax refund or information.