Residents: Identity stolen after filing taxes

7 police reports name H&R Block's Main Street branch in E.C.
2010-02-12T00:05:00Z Residents: Identity stolen after filing taxesBy Chris Keller - chris.keller@nwi.com, (219) 933-4078 nwitimes.com

The Internal Revenue Service and the East Chicago Police Department are investigating claims by several city residents who said someone else had filed 2009 tax returns using their Social Security numbers.

The Times obtained nine East Chicago police reports filed over the identity theft claims.

Of the nine, seven reports state residents filed their tax returns at the H&R Block office at 3932 Main St. in East Chicago.

Michelle Earp, who manages the Main Street office, said she was unable to comment on police reports and referred inquires to her superiors.

Gregory Morris, an H&R Block district manager based in Merrillville, said the reports are under investigation.

"We are looking into it, and I can offer no further comment," said Morris, who as district manager oversees operations of 14 H&R Block offices in Northwest Indiana and Illinois.

Morris couldn't comment on how many employees work at the Main Street office, how they are hired or if anyone has been let go in recent months.

East Chicago police Detective Terence Fife met with an IRS investigator Thursday about the cases, East Chicago Police Chief Gus Flores said.

Fife, who has been assigned to work the identity theft cases, said he has been working with Morris in addition to the IRS to investigate the matter.

"We've had identity theft cases before, but never this many," Fife said.

Citing agency policy, IRS Special Agent Maria Suarez said she couldn't confirm or deny an investigation. Suarez is the public information officer for the IRS's Chicago field office.

In interviews with four of the complainants, combined with information from police reports, the narratives and timelines of the experiences are nearly identical.

Each complainant was a repeat customer at the Main Street office and had visited the same tax preparer. After completing the paperwork, the return was filed electronically for a refund.

The customer then received a card with an 800 phone number to call to check the status of his or her tax return.

In some cases, the customer learned of a problem with his or her return after calling the 800 number after a few days. In other cases, an H&R Block employee called the customer to inform him or her of the problem.

But the problem was the same: The IRS rejected the tax return because someone already had filed using the customer's Social Security number.

"I don't have the slightest clue on how someone could have gotten my (Social Security) number," said Adrienne Duenes, a 27-year-old East Chicago resident.

On Feb. 5, Duenes learned from an H&R Block employee that her tax return was rejected because someone filed using the Social Security numbers of her and her 4-year-old son.

Duenes said she had her taxes prepared the previous day at the Main Street H&R Block office by the same person she had been going to for four years. Duenes was told to fill out a police report to begin the process of filing an amended return with the IRS.

At the East Chicago Police Department, Duenes said the clerk told her she was the latest Main Street branch customer to file a report about identity theft.

Duenes' account of what happened at H&R Block and at the Police Department sounded similar to the account from East Chicago resident Byron Florence.

The 58-year-old had his taxes prepared at the Main Street H&R Block on Jan. 29, and about three days later found out someone had electronically filed a return using his Social Security number.

"I called the 800 number, and was told I had no refund coming because I had already filed and received an electronic refund," said Florence, who said he has spoken to an IRS investigator.

Florence went back to the H&R Block branch and was told he needed to bring in a police report, original birth certificate and Social Security card. So Florence went to the East Chicago Police Department to file a report, where he said he spoke to others who were having exact same problem.

Fife said people who believe their Social Security number has been compromised should file a police report and complete an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, which is available online or at the East Chicago Police Department.

Anyone with information about an East Chicago identity theft case is asked to call the department's anonymous tip line at (219) 391-8500.

Times correspondent Steve Zabroski contributed to this report.

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