Pen Pal


Prison can get pretty lonely. Even though conditions within the prison system can be quite adverse, many incarcerated individuals cope by studying to further their education, writing articles or stories or adopting a pen pal. (There are many websites that claim to match prisoners up with pen pals on the outside.) A Department of Justice press release states that a Washington woman used the relationships she built with several prison inmates across the country to obtain personal information she later used to file fraudulent tax returns.

According to the story, the woman who happened to be incarcerated, as well, not only gleaned personal identifying information from the people she wrote to, but she also purchased information about people employed by a janitorial service from a co-conspirator. (The woman used the stolen information to file more than 150 fraudulent tax returns over a year.)

The fraudster sought more than $170,000 in tax refunds and received $56,000 at addresses controlled by friends and family members. (One of her victims claimed that the crime impacted their credit score and caused the denial of credit and job opportunities.)


The 45-year-old woman was sentenced to 30 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. She was also ordered to pay more than $56,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

The concept of providing prisoners with a positive influence through pen pal correspondence is certainly noble, but also risky. While there are prisoners who would not abuse a pen pal relationship, there are many that would see a pen pal as a potential resource. This case serves as a good example to criminals who are looking for victims to scam – you will eventually get caught. (And for those who want to be a positive influence in someone else’s life, think about writing to people serving in the military – your correspondence would be much safer and greatly appreciated.)

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on a press release titled, ”Tacoma Woman Who Led Tax Fraud and ID Theft Scheme Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison,” released by the Department of Justice on May 29, 2015.

A Tacoma, Washington woman who used a prison pen pal program to obtain other peoples’ personally identifying information was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 30 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. SHANNON HENDERSON, 45, filed more than 150 fraudulent tax returns between 2013 and 2014, seeking more than $170,000 in tax refunds. Some $56,000 in tax refunds were sent to HENDERSON at the addresses of friends and family members before the scheme was discovered. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said identity theft victimizes people ”for no reason other than greed.”

According to the plea agreement, between 2007 and 2009, while incarcerated at the Washington Women’s Correctional Center at Purdy, Washington, HENDERSON became pen pals with various inmates across the country and obtained the names and identifying information of real people from these inmates. HENDERSON also purchased the personal information of people who were employed in Washington State by ABM Janitorial Services from a co-conspirator in order to use these names to file false and fraudulent U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns. HENDERSON used both the names provided by inmates and the names purchased from the co-conspirator to file the fraudulent returns. HENDERSON had the fraudulently claimed refunds loaded onto prepaid debit cards and had the cards mailed to her using the addresses of friends and relatives.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.