A federal grand jury indicted seven people in a "sophisticated" scheme to defraud the IRS using stolen identities, the Conservative Brief reported. The alleged thieves took over $100 million and have been charged with mail and wire fraud, among other crimes.
The Department of Justice announced the charges Monday following the Austin, Texas, grand jury's conclusion earlier this month. The scam took place between 2018 and 2021.
Abraham Yusuff of Round Rock, Texas, allegedly recruited the others to obtain information, including real home addresses and names of tax preparers, to file fraudulent tax returns. They then collected refunds based on those returns.
Included in the conspiracy was fellow Round Rock resident Christopher Eduardo, Babajide Ogunbanjo from Austin, Aydin Mammadov from Houston, Dillon Anozie and Meghan Inyang from San Antonio, and Christian Mathurin from Nashville, Tennessee. In all, they filed as many as 371 fake tax returns for an estimated $111 million in IRS refunds.
Ringleader Yusuff enlisted Eduardo, Ogunbanjo, Mammadoc, and Anzonie "to provide addresses to him that could be used in the scheme," a news release from the DOJ explained. "Yusuff and others then allegedly registered with the IRS, posing as authorized agents of multiple taxpayers using stolen information relating to the taxpayers and their real tax preparers."
They convinced the IRS to send information about the taxpayers they used as their marks to an address controlled by the defendants. There they received data including the victims' pay, private accounts, and tax information that they could use to file fraudulent returns.
The IRS paid out these refunds divided among prepaid debit cards. As one stopgap against fraud, the IRS contacted the taxpayers to confirm the refunds would be paid out -- but of course, that confirmation was received and replied to by the alleged perpetrators at the new address.
The grand jury also accused six of the seven of laundering their ill-gotten gains. Yusuff, Eduardo, Ogunbanjo, Mammadov, Anozie, and Inyang allegedly used the prepaid cards they received to buy money orders they either kept as profit or used to buy goods.
Some of the suspects could serve up to 20 years in jail for money laundering while other sentences are as low as two years for identity theft and a decade for access device fraud. Each participant faces his or her own set of varying charges based on the part the individual played.
Although the alleged scammers have been caught and could face jail time, the indictment underscores vulnerabilities that exist in a modern, connected world. This is never more important -- or debated -- than when it pertains to vote by mail.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more voters than ever before were allowed to vote by mail beginning in 2020, the New York Times reported. This unprecedented number of absentee or mail-in ballots was touted as a boon for free and fair elections.
However, it's easy to see how voting that happens by means other than in person at a polling location could be rife with fraud. While many claim that it isn't at all a concern, this IRS scam proves otherwise.
After all, names and addresses of voters are easy enough to obtain since they're often public, or at least information that's provided upon request. Contrast that to taxpayer information that is arguably more private and closely guarded, and it's clear why elections security is an issue.
The people who allegedly ran this scam have been caught and could face jail time. However, the lessons learned from it should be applied to similar systems like voting.