Florida hit by “tsunami” of tax identity fraud: ” file fraudulent tax returns on Turbo Tax “

By David Adams | Reuters – 9 hrs ago

 

  • Seized fraudulent tax mailings are displayed during a news conference in Tampa, Florida, in this undated police handout photo. Tax identity theft skyrocketed to more than 1.2 million cases in 2012 from only 48,000 in 2008, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. REUTERS/Tampa Police Department/Handout

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Seized fraudulent tax mailings are displayed during a news conference in Tampa, Florida, in this undated police handout photo. Tax identity theft skyrocketed to more than 1.2 million cases …more  in 2012 from only 48,000 in 2008, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. REUTERS/Tampa Police Department/Handout  less 

MIAMI (Reuters) – Bruce Parton was only a few weeks from retirement after 30 years as a mail carrier in sunny Florida.

              He never lived to fulfill his retirement plan of moving back to a quiet life in the Catskill mountains of New York, not far from where he grew up on Long Island.

              Instead, he was gunned down on his daily mail route in December 2010 by members of an identity theft ring who stole his master key as part of a scheme to claim fraudulent tax refunds.

              Using stolen names and Social Security numbers, criminals are filing phony electronic tax forms to claim refunds, exploiting a slow-moving federal bureaucracy to collect the money before victims, or the Internal Revenue Service, discover the fraud.

              Parton was a victim of what officials say has ballooned into a massive, and dangerous, illegal industry that could cost the nation $21 billion over the next five years, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

While that is a relatively small sum compared to the $1.1 trillion collected from individual tax payers in the last fiscal year, the crime has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last three years.

“We are on the top of a national trend that is causing a hemorrhage of tax dollars,” said Wifredo Ferrer, United States Attorney for south Florida. “It’s a tsunami of fraud.”

              While the IRS says it has detected cases in every state except North Dakota and West Virginia, the fraud’s epicenter is Florida, and it is mostly concentrated in Miami and Tampa.

              Miami has 46 times the per-capita rate of false tax refund claims than the rest of the country, and 70 times the national average in dollar terms, Ferrer told Reuters.

              “For whatever reason, we always tend to lead the nation when it comes to fraud,” he said, noting that his office has been battling massive Medicare fraud in recent years that has since spread to other parts of the country.

              Florida’s high proportion of older residents, who can be more vulnerable to fraud, may be one reason for the high levels of fraud in the state.

Nationwide, the number of cases of tax identity theft detected by authorities sky-rocketed to more than 1.2 million cases in 2012 from only 48,000 in 2008, according to the Treasury Department.

The real number of phony tax filings is likely much higher as the fraud is hard to track, according to a November General Accountability Office report.

GANG LINKS

The tax ID theft problem is particularly troubling as, unlike Medicare fraud, it is associated with violent crime and armed gangs.

Tampa police first detected it in 2010 when officers discovered wanted street criminals engaged in tax fraud. “They were holed up in hotels with laptops churning out tax claims,” said congresswoman Kathy Castor, who represents the area and is pressing the IRS to get tougher on the fraud.

When agents raided a Howard Johnson in East Tampa in late 2010, they found suspects smoking marijuana and four laptop computers being used to file fraudulent tax returns on Turbo Tax, the tax preparation software, according to police records.

The suspects had lists of personal information containing more than 1,000 names and confidential personal information, multiple re-loadable debit cards, and records of numerous financial transactions. The investigation revealed that the suspects had been camped out in the hotel room for more than a week filing claims.

Tax identity fraudsters are apparently drawn by the ease of the crime, officials say.

“The scheme is very basic, it works virtually the same in almost every case,” said Ferrer. “All they need is your name and the tax ID number.”

Armed with that information a refund claim can be filed electronically, making up other details on the form, including addresses, employer data, income and deductions.

Criminals obtain the vital numbers using various tactics, often by bribing office workers with access to personnel files inside companies, as well as large public institutions such as hospitals and schools, according to prosecutors.

Last summer a hacker stole 3.8 million unencrypted tax records from the South Carolina Department of Revenue in what is believed to be the largest security breach of a U.S. tax agency. Authorities say they do not know the hacker’s motive.

              One North Miami man, Rodney Saint Fleur, was charged last year with using the LexisNexis research service account at the law firm where he worked to access names and Social Security numbers of 26,000 people as part of an identity theft scheme, according to court documents.

              Victims in Florida have varied from hospital patients, to Holocaust survivors at an elderly Jewish community center, as well as active duty military serving overseas.

In December, a former U.S. Marine from North Miami was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for stealing the identities of more than 40 fellow Marines stationed at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan as part of a plot to claim $54,000 in fraudulent income-tax refunds.

In Parton’s case the criminals were after his master key that gives postal workers access to mail drop-off boxes and apartment mailboxes. He was shot twice in the chest by a gunman as part of a plot to steal identities in people’s mail for tax refund fraud.

The gunman, Pikerson Mentor, 31, was sentenced last month to life plus 42 years.

More than 600 people turned up for Parton’s funeral, including postal workers and people who got to know him on his route. “He had been doing that mail route for 10 years and he always had a smile for everyone,” said his daughter, Nina Parton.

The criminals stay under the radar using identities of the elderly or the very young, who are unlikely to be filing for earned income, as well as the deceased. They typically claim small refunds, around $3,000, but use multiple identities, with payments often made to pre-paid debit cards.

FIGHTING BACK

The IRS said last week it is intensifying a crackdown on identify theft, with 3,000 agents devoted to tackling the problem, double the number assigned in 2011.

The number of IRS criminal investigations into identity theft more than tripled in the year to September 2012, and it was on pace to double again this year, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller told reporters.

              The tax collection agency prevented $20 billion in attempted tax refund fraud in fiscal year 2012, up from $14 billion a year earlier, he said.

              “It’s one of the biggest challenges that faces the IRS today,” Miller said. “We’re doing much better on all fronts but we have much more to do.”

Despite the increase in investigations, the agency still had a backlog of 300,000 cases of people waiting for legitimate refunds after they were victims of fraud. It takes an average of six months to resolve a case, Miller said.

“The IRS have put a lot of resources on it, but they always seem to be behind the curve,” said Keith Fogg, a tax professor at Villanova University School of Law.

Electronic filing, which now accounts for 80 percent of returns and was introduced to speed up delivery of refunds, has made the system more vulnerable to fraud.

The IRS is seeking to speed up the loading of data from W-2 payroll forms issued at the beginning of the tax season, a time lapse which gives fraudsters a window of opportunity to file using false data.

The IRS is also looking for ways to authenticate the identity of tax filers at the time of filing to pre-empt fraud, as well as working with the Social Security Administration to limit access to a registry of social security data of deceased tax payers, the so-called “Death Master File”, a frequent target of fraud.

“We will not be prosecuting our way out of this. That’s not going to be the answer. We’re going to have to make it more and more difficult for criminals to profit from this behavior,” said Miller. “If they’re not successful they will move onto something else.”

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Claudia Parsons)

http://news.yahoo.com/florida-hit-tsunami-tax-identity-fraud-122604383–finance.html

 

Ammo supplier Brownells sells 3 1/2 years of AR-15 magazines in 72 hours

Ammo supplier Brownells says sales of 3 1/2 years of magazines in 72 hours a response to stricter gun control.

December 26, 2012 12:04

Ar 15 2012 12 26 1024x683

An AR-15 Dec. 18, 2012 in Miami, FA. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
What do you think?

Amid fears of stricter US gun control laws, the world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories claims it has sold 3 1/2 years of ammunition magazines for the AR-15 assault rifle in just three days.

Brownells Inc. made the claim in a statement attributed to company President Pete Brownell on gun owner forum AR15.com.

 

Gunman Adam Lanza is said to have used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle when he went on a shooting spree Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, killing 20 first-graders and six adults before turning the gun on himself. He also killed his mother.

In the gun owner forum post, Brownell said he and his staff “absolutely apologize” for an order backlog on the company’s website, adding “we’re working like crazy to get these orders to you as quickly as possible.”

 

“The demand for magazines actually exceeded the ability for the system to keep up with the volume that was being ordered,” he wrote, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Brownell didn’t speculate on what’s causing the spike in demand.

However, some U.S. gun sellers report an uptick in sales following calls by President Barack Obama and other Democrats to renew a ban on assault weapons, the New York Daily News reported.

“They’ve been off the charts. Absolutely skyrocketing,” Chuck Nesby, a firearms instructor in Falls Church, Virginia, told ABC News. “If I could give an award to President Obama and Sen. Feinstein, (they) would be salesperson of the year.”

 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/121226/brownells-sells-3-half-years-ar-15-magazines-3-days

Do palm trees hold the key to immortality?

Contact: Richard Hund rhund@botany.org 314-577-9557 American Journal of Botany

Recent review reveals unique cellular structure and function that may contribute to their long life-span

For centuries, humans have been exploring, researching, and, in some cases, discovering how to stave off life-threatening diseases, increase life spans, and obtain immortality.  Biologists, doctors, spiritual gurus, and even explorers have pursued these quests—one of the most well-known examples being the legendary search by Ponce de León for the “Fountain of Youth.” Yet the key to longevity may not lie in a miraculous essence of water, but rather in the structure and function of cells within a plant—and not a special, mysterious, rare plant, but one that we may think of as being quite commonplace, even ordinary: the palm.

As an honors botany student at the University of Leeds, P. Barry Tomlinson wrote a prize-winning essay during his final year titled, “The Span of Life.” Fifty years later, Tomlinson (now a Distinguished Professor at The Kampong Garden of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Miami, FL) teamed up with graduate student Brett Huggett (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA) to write a review paper exploring the idea that palms may be the longest-lived tree, and whether this might be due to genetic underpinnings.  Having retained his essay in his personal files, Tomlinson found that it provided an excellent literature background for working on the question of cell longevity in relation to palms.  Together, Tomlinson and Huggett published their review in the December issue of the American Journal of Botany (http://www.amjbot.org/content/99/12/1891.full.pdf+html).

A component of an organism’s life span that biologists have been particularly interested in is whether longevity is genetically determined and adaptive. For botanists, discovering genetic links to increasing crop production and the reproductive lifespan of plants, especially long-lived ones such as trees, would be invaluable.

In their paper, Tomlinson and Huggett emphasize that in many respects, an organisms’ life span, or longevity, is determined by the period of time in which its cells remain functionally metabolically active.  In this respect, plants and animals differ drastically, and it has to do with how they are organized—plants are able to continually develop new organs and tissues, whereas animals have a fixed body plan and are not able to regenerate senescing organs.  Thus, plants can potentially live longer than animals.

“The difference in potential cell longevity in plants versus animals is a significant point,” states Tomlinson. “It is important to recognize that plants, which are so often neglected in modern biological research, can be informative of basic cell biological features in a way that impacts human concern at a fundamental level.”

The authors focused their review on palm trees because palms have living cells that may be sustained throughout an individual palm’s lifetime, and thus, they argue, may have some of the longest living cells in an organism.  As a comparison, in most long-lived trees, or lignophytes, the main part, or trunk, of the tree is almost entirely composed of dead, woody, xylem tissues, and in a sense is essentially a supportive skeleton of the tree with only an inner ring of actively dividing cells.  For example, the skeleton of Pinus longaeva may be up to 3000 years old, but the active living tissues can only live less than a century.

In contrast, the trunks of palms consist of cells that individually live for a long time, indeed for the entire life of an individual.

Which brings up the question of just how long can a palm tree live? The authors point out that palm age is difficult to determine, primarily because palms do not have secondary growth and therefore do not put down annual or seasonal growth rings that can easily be measured.  However, age can be quite accurately assessed based on rate of leaf production and/or visible scars on the trunk from fallen leaves.  Accordingly, the authors found that several species of palm have been estimated to live as long as 100 and even up to 740 years.  The important connection here is that while the “skeleton” of the palm may not be as old as a pine, the individual cells in its trunk lived, or were metabolically active, as long as, or longer than those of the pine’s.

Most plants, in addition to increasing in height as they age, also increase in girth, putting down secondary vascular tissue in layers both on the inner and outer sides of the cambium as they grow.  However, palms do not have secondary growth, and there is no addition of secondary vascular tissue.  Instead, stem tissues are laid down in a series of interconnected vascular bundles—thus, not only is the base of the palm the oldest and the top the youngest, but these tissues from old to young, from base to top, must also remain active in order to provide support and transport water and nutrients throughout the tree.

Indeed, the authors illustrate this by reviewing evidence of sustained primary growth in two types of palms, the coconut and the sago palm. These species represent the spectrum in tissue organization from one where cells are relatively uniform and provide both hydraulic and mechanical functions (the coconut) to one where these functions are sharply divided with the inner cells functioning mainly for transporting water and nutrients and the outer ones for mechanical support (the sago palm).  This represents a progression in specialization of the vascular tissues.

Moreover, there is evidence of continued metabolic activity in several types of tissues present in the stems of palms, including vascular tissue, fibers, ground tissue, and starch storage.  Since the vascular tissues in palms are nonrenewable, they must function indefinitely, and Tomlinson and Huggett point out that sieve tubes and their companion cells are remarkable examples of cell longevity as they maintain a long-distance transport function without replacement throughout the life of the stem, which could be for centuries.

Despite several unique characteristics of palms, including the ability to sustain metabolically active cells in the absence of secondary tissues, seemingly indefinitely, unlike conventional trees, in which metabolically active cells are relatively short-lived, the authors do not conclude that the extended life span of palms is genetically determined.

“We are not saying that palms have the secret of eternal youth, and indeed claim no special chemical features which allows cells in certain organisms to retain fully differentiated cells with an indefinite lifespan,” states Tomlinson. “Rather, we emphasize the distinctive developmental features of palm stems compared with those in conventional trees.”

Tomlinson indicates that this reflects the neglect of the teaching of palm structure in modern biology courses. “This paper raises incompletely understood aspects of the structure and development of palms, emphasizing great diversity in these features,” he concludes. “This approach needs elaborating in much greater detail, difficult though the subject is in terms of conventional approaches to plant anatomy.”

###

Tomlinson, P. Barry and Brett A. Huggett. 2012. Cell longevity and sustained primary growth in palm stems. American Journal of Botany 99(12): 1891-1902. DOI: 10.3732/ajb.1200089

The full article in the link mentioned is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary at http://www.amjbot.org/content/99/12/1891.full.pdf+html. After this date, reporters may contact Richard Hund at ajb@botany.org for a copy of the article.

The Botanical Society of America (www.botany.org) is a non-profit membership society with a mission to promote botany, the field of basic science dealing with the study and inquiry into the form, function, development, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants and their interactions within the biosphere. It has published the American Journal of Botany (www.amjbot.org) for nearly 100 years. In 2009, the Special Libraries Association named the American Journal of Botany one of the Top 10 Most Influential Journals of the Century in the field of Biology and Medicine.

For further information, please contact the AJB staff at ajb@botany.org.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is not linked to suspect viruses

Contact: stephanie Berger sb2247@columbia.edu 212-305-4372 Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Multi-site blinded study puts to rest the notion that these viruses cause the mysterious ailment

The causes of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have long eluded scientists. In 2009, a paper in the journal Science linked the syndrome—sometimes called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)—to infection with a mouse retrovirus called XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus (MLV)-related virus). Given that affected patients often have symptoms consistent with a chronic infection, this viral connection seemed plausible, and the findings were celebrated as a major achievement for a complex disease that afflicts nearly 1 million in the U.S. Another study in early 2010 published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detected murine retrovirus-like sequences (designated pMLV: polytropic MLV) in CFS/ME patients, which provided further support for a viral theory.

Follow-up investigations by several laboratories were unable to detect XMRV or pMLV in CFS patients. However, none of them examined a sufficiently large population of well-characterized CFS/ME patients to rigorously test the validity of those findings.  In the absence of a definitive study, many in the general public may have retained the opinion that XMRV and/or pMLV are responsible for the disease, and some clinicians continue the “off-label” prescription of antiretroviral drugs.

To definitively resolve this issue, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), commissioned a study under the auspices of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the NIH’s National Cancer Institute and Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center.

The research is published in mBio.

A total of 293 subjects, 147 with CFS/ME and 146 matched controls, were recruited from six sites across the United States following extensive clinical assessments and laboratory screening.  Clinical sites included Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), the Simmaron Research Institute (Incline Village, NV), Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Miami, FL), the Infectious Disease Clinic at Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA), the Levine Clinic (New York, NY), and the Fatigue Consultation Clinic (Salt Lake City, UT).

All CFS/ME patients chosen for the study: 1) were between the ages of 18 and 70; 2) had never suffered from another neurologic or psychiatric illness; 3) met both the “Fukuda” and “Canadian Consensus” criteria for CFS/ME; 4) were suffering from symptoms of a viral infection prior to CFS onset; 5) had reduced scores on the RAND36 quality-of-life survey (vitality subscale <35, social functioning subscale <62.5, role-physical subscale <50) and the Karnofsky Performance Scale (<70%); 6) were not pregnant, lactating, or less than 3 months postpartum to prevent maternity-related fatigue from being confused for CFS/ME.

Control subjects were recruited to match age, sex/gender distribution, race/ethnicity, and geographic location. Controls had no previous contact with individuals with CFS/ME. All potential subjects were then tested for evidence of any metabolic, endocrine, or infectious disease that might cause fatigue. Blood from CFS/ME and control subjects who met this selection criteria was collected for blinded XMRV and/or pMLV analysis using molecular, culture and serological methods, which were previously established in the individual laboratories where evidence of XMRV or pMLV had been reported or ruled out.

None of the laboratories found evidence of XMRV or pMLV in samples from the recruited CFS/ME or control subjects. For quality assurance of the molecular tests, separate positive controls (blood samples intentionally spiked with XMRV/pMLV) and negative controls (blood samples prescreened and lacking the retroviruses) were used and confirmed that the diagnostic assays were functioning properly.

Nine control and nine CFS/ME blood samples were positive for XMRV/pMLV-reactive antibodies. The accuracy of this assay cannot be determined because there are no positive controls in the general population with XMRV serology. Nonetheless, there was no correlation of antibody reactivity in blood from CFS/ME and controls.

Statement from Dr. Mikovits, the author of the Science paper wherein XMRV was first linked to CFS: “I greatly appreciated the opportunity to fully participate in this unprecedented study. Unprecedented because of the level of collaboration, the integrity of the investigators, and the commitment of the NIH to provide its considerable resources to the CFS community for this important study. Although I am disappointed that we found no association of XMRV/pMLV to CFS, the silver lining is that our 2009 Science report resulted in global awareness of this crippling disease and has sparked new interest in CFS research. I am dedicated to continuing to work with leaders in the field of pathogen discovery in the effort to determine the etiologic agent for CFS.”

“Although the once promising XMRV and pMLV hypotheses have been excluded, the consequences of the early reports linking these viruses to disease are that new resources and investigators have been recruited to address the challenge of the CFS/ME”, said W. Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the multi-site study and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology in the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. “We are confident that these investments will yield insights into the causes, prevention and treatment of CFS/ME.”

###

This study was funded by National Institutes of Health award AI1057158 (NBC-Lipkin).

Collaborating Research Groups

  • Department of Transfusion Medicine, Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.
  • Mikovits Consulting, Oxnard, CA.
  • Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.
  • Cancer and Inflammation Program, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, Frederick, MD.
  • Tissue Safety Laboratory, Office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, MD.
  • Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale FL.
  • Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Miami, FL.
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA.
  • Infectious Disease Clinic, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA.
  • Fatigue Consultation Clinic, Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Levine Clinic, New York, NY.
  • Simmaron Research Institute, Incline Village, NV.
  • Department of Biostatistics, Columbia University, New York, NY.
  • Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
  • Center for Infection and Immunity, Columbia University, New York, NY.
  • Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University, Boston, MA. 

    About Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health Founded in 1922 as one of the first three public health academies in the nation, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit www.mailman.columbia.edu