A new task force is investigating suspected tax fraud after a 6-year-old girl brought a bag of debit cards to school. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says it was a Ziploc bag of 52 cards with different names on them.
A teacher at Symmes Elementary School in Brandon told authorities the bag came from the girl's backpack. She called law enforcement Monday. That afternoon, a team of investigators served a search warrant at the girl's home on Hawthorne Trace Lane in Riverview.
Detectives seized a child's purple scooter. They think it was bought with stolen tax refunds. A pink bike was impounded too, along with a large flat screen television. Investigators say they also found clear-cut evidence of refund fraud.
"That money is the citizen's money, the community's money, tax payers' money," said Corporal Bruce Crumpler. "Yes, it's hard and it's never easy to take children's toys or items but it's the right thing to do."
It's a lucrative scam. The scammers file fraudulent tax returns using stolen Social Security numbers. The IRS issues the refund on the cards.
"Some are Visa. Some are AARP. Some are Bank Corp, Green Dot, Turbo Tax," said Crumpler.
A new task force of local law enforcement and the IRS is questioning the girl's mother. No one has been arrested.
Neighbors are stunned.
"It's a shame that people want to take advantage of other people's prosperity to help themselves," said Marie Waters, who lives two door down from the house.
The experts say file early and be proactive.
"Consumers have the ability to place a credit freeze on their credit reporting information, so that no new accounts can be opened in their name in case it is stolen," said Hillsborough Consumer Protection Agency's Chief Investigator Kevin Jackson.
Tax refund fraud is such an epidemic in the Tampa Bay Area that two IRS agents are embedded with the Sheriff's Office to help with these investigations. The new task force formed in October. Investigators say having this close cooperation with the IRS is making tax refund fraud investigations happen faster. It took them just five hours to get a warrant and start searching the house.
Investigators say they are following many leads.