It’s hard to find someone to trust when planning and committing fraud.  Most likely, your mother-in-law would not be your first choice as a partner in crime.  But, that’s what happened in according to an article by  The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama reported that a mother-in-law and son-in-law duo almost got away with identity theft and tax fraud until they were caught by the United States Postal Service (USPS).

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the mother-in-law worked for a debt collection agency and supplied personal identification information that helped her son-in-law run the criminal operation.  She accessed company files and supplied names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of people who owed medical debts. (How nice – sick people who are in debt.  Let’s make their life even worse.) The woman even took the time to handwrite all of the personal information before giving it to her son-in-law. (See how easy it is for fraudsters to steal personal identification information and use it for their own nefarious schemes?)

Criminals are becoming more innovative every day and this case is no exception.  Enter the co-conspirator – the cable guy.  The son-in-law happened to know an independent contractor for a cable company who was proficient in installing cable and Internet services.  The cable guy also knew how to shut down and hijack his cable company customers’ Internet service.  The son-in-law and the cable guy used the personal information obtained from the mother-in-law to fraudulently file false tax returns through the stolen cable customers’ Internet addresses.  This made it look like the tax refunds were being filed by the cable company customers. (I give them serious points for creativity.  This is very impressive.) The tax refunds for the bogus returns were placed on pre-paid debit cards, which were then intercepted by the USPS.

The pair of fraudsters was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States through filing fraudulent federal income tax returns, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  The son-in-law was also convicted of theft of public money and faces a maximum prison sentence of 106 years.  The mother-in-law is looking at a maximum prison term of 76 years.  The cable guy pleaded guilty and got 30 months in jail.

This case underscores the point that no matter how much an individual guards his or her identity, there always will be someone out there trying to steal it.  Unfortunately, individuals don’t have control over how third parties protect their personal identity information.  So, it is up to the government to play a role in authenticating and verifying the identities of individuals requesting tax refunds and government benefits in order to help protect the identities of taxpayers.

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