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Protect yourself: Inside the mind of a W-2 thief

Protect yourself: Inside the mind of a W-2 thief (ABC7)

It's the perfect snapshot of who you are. Your W-2 tax form.

It has every bit of information that is needed to process loans, get credit cards, open up bank accounts.

If stolen, Woody Talcove of Lexisnexis Risk Solutions says, "the individuals who are stealing things are the people that want to fund terrorist organizations, people who are doing human trafficking and people who are doing drugs."

In the hands of criminals like that it's just a game of filing before the actual person does. Then that criminal can actually become you.

William Cooper told Seven On Your Side that thieves “created additional deductions, and tax cheats and got a lot more money back from the government than I would have.” In fact, cyber thieves stole Cooper's W-2 information from an agency he worked for. They used that information to open up a bogus company and file tax returns in his name. The thieves received a $ 9,503 refund check from the IRS.

Before this, Cooper even tried to file taxes himself. It’s possible this same scam is being carried out at your place of employment right now and it could be months or even years before you find out you are a victim.

“If you are wondering about tax fraud,” says master cyber thief Brett Johnson, “I'm the guy who started it.”

Johnson says he's reformed now, after being on the FBI’s most wanted list, and eventually spending time in federal prison.

Johnson told us he would file a return once every six minutes.

His original scam was filing bogus returns with stolen social security numbers. But in an effort to stop thieves, the IRS made it impossible to file with just a name and social security number. That's when he and other thieves moved to stealing W-2s.

“I was filing eight hours a day four days a week,” Johnson admits. “On Fridays I would cash out and cashing out was $160,000 a week.”

Johnson’s scam was that he would target company x and, posing as the chief executive, send an email to the payroll or human resources department asking for workers W-2s.

“It's easier to ask someone for information than to brute force your way into a system,” Johnson says.

“It's just going to take one employee with access to the information and they put the entire company at risk,” Talcove says.

Talcove, chief executive of one of the top data and analytics companies in the country, predicts this W-2 scam will be the top cyber threat of 2018.

“You can't stop it,” he says. “And that's why they're doing it.”

With the W-2s in hand, the thief opens up fake bank accounts in his victims' names.

“We couldn't get the bank accounts up fast enough at that point we turned over to pre-paid debit cards,” Johnson says. “I didn't care who I was ripping off or how I was ripping them off as long as I got money.”

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