MIAMI (CBS4) - Following a recent robbery of a postal carrier in North Miami, Postal Inspector Ivan Ramirez gave a simple explanation.
"Well unfortunately, we're coming up on tax season again," he said. "One kid came from behind and grabbed her while the other one grabbed her keys and ran away."
And it was the carrier's Master Key that the two teens wanted.
"These keys are, for lack of a better term, the key to financial future for anybody who wants to steal your identity," Ramirez said.
As CBS4 News told you last year, identity theft and tax fraud has become the new crack cocaine for street gangs - a fast , relatively easy way to make a lot of money.
"Fact of the matter is there is a lot more money to be gained than slinging crack at the corner," explained Lt. Luis Almaguer, head of Miami Dade's gang unit. "We're dealing with people who used to make a hundred here or there selling crack on the corner and now they are making thousands of dollars."
In essence, as CBS4 investigator Jim DeFede first reported last May, the street gangs are diversifying into the highly profitable world of white collar crime.
"We are seeing the street gangs use the tax refund scams to fund their drug trafficking [and] to fund their ability to buy guns," said Willy Ferrer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. "Why? It's lucrative, it's less dangerous and it is something they can do easily."
And now is the time when postal carriers and the public are at risk. They key to the fraud is filing the bogus tax return early -- in the next few weeks - before you file your legitimate return.
Stealing the master key of a postal carrier is the first step. It allows the bad guys into an array of mailboxes, hoping to find material containing your social security number.
In the past two years, seven postal carriers have been robbed in North Dade alone.
They then file a tax return in that person's name electronically, directing the IRS to send the refund check to an address the gang controls.
"You can call it ingenious but it's a thug trying to get over on somebody else," Almaguer said.
In the past four years, the IRS reports a six fold increase in identity theft cases leading to bogus tax returns. Last year alone there were 650,000 incidents, according to the IRS.
The IRS website -- IRS.gov -- offers tips on ways to avoid being victim.
"The important thing," Ramirez said, "is to safeguard your information at all cost."
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