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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Fourty-two people in South Florida are facing federal charges in connection to a $21 million identity theft-fraud scheme.

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Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said Thursday the suspects were indicted in 25 separate cases. Most were attempts to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, but some involve tens of thousands of stolen identities to falsely obtain state unemployment insurance.

Ferrer said identity theft remains a huge problem in South Florida and that criminals are branching out to defraud Social Security and other programs. Some have tried to fraudulently claim state tax refunds outside Florida’s borders.

“South Florida is a hotbed for stolen identity related crimes,” said IRS criminal Investigator Kelly Jackson.

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The Federal Trade Commission says Florida has led the nation in identity theft complaints for each of the past four years. In 2014, Florida’s rate was 186 complaints for every 100,000 residents.

Meantime, the identity theft rate in Miami has reached near epidemic proportions. In Miami, there are 316.2 complaints per 100,000 residents.

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Officials say individuals and organized gangs are hoarding personal information either using it themselves or selling it and they say the offenders are getting more creative, coming up with new schemes to cash out using your stolen information.

“Thieves using our stolen identities not only to steal from IRS but also to steal our tax dollars from other government programs, such as social security, unemployment insurance and even from other states income tax revenue programs,” said Ferrer.

In an attempt to combat the rising number of stolen identity refund scams, the U.S. Attorney’s Office established the Identity Theft Strike Force which includes a number of agencies working together.

“The epidemic of identity theft and tax fraud has hit South Florida hard in the past few years.  The creation of the South Florida Identity Theft Strike Force has allowed the law enforcement members involved in the task force to work together, on many different levels, to combat this epidemic” said Ronald J. Verrochio, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Miami Division.

So far, they have charged 359 people, who were responsible for $314 million in intended losses and in excess of $125 million in actual losses.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the IRS have also revoked so called “electronic filing identification numbers” or EFIN numbers, which allow individuals to file tax returns on behalf of others.

State attorney said most of the time identity theft is an insider job like someone working at a government agency or doctor’s office stealing your information and using or selling it.  Officials said the best way to protect your information is by not giving it out.

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