Living the high life comes with high expenses.  It’s not cheap to fashion the hottest trends and drive the fanciest cars – these things come with hefty price tags.  While it’s easy to rack up credit card bills, some fraudsters find it even easier to make purchases with money that doesn’t belong to them.  As today’s Fraud of the Day from the Tampa Bay Times shows, one Florida resident learned the expenses associated with living the high life, and living it illegally.

The article reports that a Florida woman, who had never previously committed a crime, managed to steal $273,254 from the federal government (a.k.a. the taxpayers) by filing false tax returns with bogus identities.  A single mother, she claimed to be going through a “tough time,” having to tend to a son who had undergone a surgery, which kept her from working.   After making a public apology in court for her actions, the judge questioned her intent, revealing her purchases not to be necessities such as food and diapers; instead, the woman had made purchases for expensive luxury accessories to include designer clothing, a flat screen TV and a pink name brand hand gun.  (Using illegal money to buy weapons…How original?)  During the trial, the defendant admitted to her illegal activity, telling the court she would attend “drop parties,” where she and other individuals would file fake tax returns.  (This is new – I’ve never gotten an invitation to one of these soirees.)

Investigations concluded the woman to be guilty after finding her personal laptop that housed 65 filed tax returns claiming $467,781.  The good news is that she wasn’t all that good at it.  She only stole a little over $273K.  Plus, the government has recovered about $105K.   The judge sentenced her to serve two years and four months in prison, followed by two years probation and ordered her to pay restitution in the amount of $167,974.

Clearly, the judge gets it:  tax return fraud is a serious crime.  So, let’s stop it.  Revenue agencies should leverage identity-based filters to detect phony IDs used in submitting fake tax returns.  If red flags for fraud are raised before the government issues the refund, then the fraud is stopped in its tracks.  Here’s the question of the day:  if tax refund fraud is a serious crime that can be stopped and we have a way to stop it, why aren’t we using the solution?

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