UPDATE: Phenix City woman accused of stealing over 1000 identiti - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

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UPDATE: Phenix City woman accused of stealing over 1000 identities pleads not guilty

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FORT BENNING, Ga. - Tracy Mitchell, a resident of Phenix City, Ala., was indicted for her involvement in a stolen identity refund fraud scheme, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally of the Justice Department's Tax Division and U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. for the Middle District of Alabama announced Thursday following the unsealing of the indictment.

Mitchell is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and eight counts of aggravated identity theft. According to the indictment, Mitchell worked at the hospital on the Fort Benning Army Base in Georgia, where she had access to the means of identification of military personnel, including soldiers who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Mitchell stole the identities of military personnel and used those identities to file over 1,000 false tax returns from her home. These false tax returns claimed over $2.2 million in fraudulent refunds.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the defendant faces a statutory maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count and a statutory mandatory two-year sentence for each aggravated identity theft count. The defendant is also subject to fines, forfeiture and restitution if convicted.

The case was investigated by special agents of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Army – Criminal Investigation Division. Trial Attorney Michael Boteler of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Brown are prosecuting the case.

Mitchell plead not guilty in an arraignment hearing on Wednesday. Her trial is expected to be sometime in November, according to a spokesperson with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

News 3 visited her Phenix City home Friday afternoon to hear her side of the story -- it looked like there were people home at the time -- but no one answered the door when we knocked. We did receive a statement from her defense attorney, Dwayne L. Browne, saying:

"On the behalf of Ms. Mitchell, I would ask all concerned citizens to reserve judgment until this matter is concluded. At the present time, in accordance with well-established constitutional law, Ms. Mitchell is presumed innocent of these serious charges."

And we wanted to know more about identity theft crimes -- so we spoke to Leonard Crain of the local Better Business Bureau. He says it's unfortunate when something like this happens, because it's usually out of the victim's control.

"There's not a lot an individual can do to ensure that information is properly handled inside an organization," says Crain.
But each organization knows that they're responsible for handling the info and protecting it."

A Martin Army Community Hospital spokesperson declined to answer questions on how long Mitchell had worked there, what she did there, and how personal information documents are stored within the hospital. She referred us to an issued statement:

"The staff of the Martin Army Community Hospital cares deeply about the security of our patient’s personally identifiable information. Due to the Department of Justice’s indictment, it would be inappropriate to comment on the alleged crime. The Martin Army Community Hospital staff always strives to provide high quality security of any information about an individual maintained by our organization. We cooperated in the investigation and we are fully committed to patient-centered health care and safe information for all our beneficiaries."

Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission says identity theft is the top consumer complaint - for another year in a row. Its annual list shows 14% of complaints reported were related to identity theft. The growing crime cost victims more than $1.6 billion last year alone. Other top complaints -- debt collection and imposter scams.

To protect yourself from becoming a victim -- the FTC reminds folks to be careful when throwing out material. Be sure to erase cell phones and computers before throwing them away. And be sure to shred documents such as receipts, credit offers, insurance forms or banking statements.

Click here for more tips on how to keep your personal information secure.




James Brierton

James joined WRBL News 3 with experience from CNN, NBC News and his own hyper-local news site. He manages the WRBL News 3 Web desk. More>>

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