If something sounds too good to be true, be suspicious and ask questions. A story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tells about how a Georgia tax preparer convinced 5,000 unsuspecting victims to let him submit their tax returns as part of a $5 million tax refund fraud scheme. (I’m guessing his customers are probably wishing they had asked a few more questions before signing on the dotted line.)

The man, who allegedly operated his own tax business, recruited his clients by promising them an “Obama stimulus payment” or “free government money.” Further research revealed that he purportedly convinced his customers to submit their personal information, including Social Security numbers, names, dates of birth through paper applications and a toll free number. (This is the point at which his unsuspecting victims should have asked more questions.)

For more than one year, the tax preparer submitted thousands of phony tax returns and had the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) deposit the refunds into multiple bank accounts. Supposedly, the fraudster split the refunds in half with his clients.

The 38-year-old was convicted of aggravated identity theft, filing false claims and money laundering. He will serve 20 years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. In addition, he will pay more than $5 million in restitution and forfeit the balances of seven bank accounts involved in the scheme.

It looks like this fraudster is getting a fair punishment for his deceptive practices. Unfortunately, his victims fell for the offer of “free” money. (Can you really get anything for free without paying a price of some sort?) This scheme came with a high price tag for both the perpetrator and the victims. (The fraudster will be spending a considerable time behind bars, while his victims and the rest of us taxpayers will help to foot the bill for his prison stay.) Perhaps this experience will serve as an example for others who are after easy money: 1) Don’t commit fraud – you will pay for your crime, and 2) Avoid becoming a victim by asking lots of questions. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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