Thieves don’t usually target the poor for tangible goods; however, everyone has something of worth – even the financially disadvantaged. Personal identification information is a hot commodity and can pay out big rewards to identity thieves, who really don’t care how much they get as long as it amounts to cold hard cash in some form. The Portland Press Herald reports that a woman took advantage of some disadvantaged Maine residents in a scheme to fraudulently file federal income tax returns with stolen personal identification information, resulting in illegal tax refunds of nearly $240,000.
The woman allegedly assisted people with filing claims under Maine’s Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund Program – formerly known as the Circuit Breaker program. The purpose of the program was to help people with low incomes afford to stay in their houses by providing a credit to alleviate the disproportionate burden of high property taxes. The 43-year-old obtained the personal identification information when she filled out tax credit forms to assist her victims. She then used that same information to falsify W-2 forms and file fraudulent tax returns for more than 25 people over a four-year period. The con-woman was brazen enough to claim herself and even her children as dependents on some of the tax returns in several victims’ names, including people who had actually been in prison the entire tax year. The illegal tax refunds were directed by electronic deposit to multiple bank accounts, which she had opened under her victims’ names. (Maybe she convinced herself that she was helping others, when in reality, she was really just helping herself.)
The woman pleaded guilty to federal identity theft and fraud charges and has a plea agreement to repay restitution of nearly $220,000 to the federal government and almost $20,000 to the State of Maine. She could be sentenced to a maximum prison term of 15 years for identity theft plus a maximum of another five years for making false claims against the government.
For someone who took advantage of others who simply needed a tax break to legitimately pay their property taxes, the punishment seems fair that she’ll be trading her house for “The Big House.” This story gives new meaning to Maine’s motto: “The Way Life Should Be.”