Soldiers are accustomed to being placed in harm’s way. They can anticipate the enemy, prepare for combat and be ready to engage at a moment’s notice. However, it is difficult to predict how some enemies will actually attack. An article published in the Ledger-Enquirer.com describes how nine people allegedly stole the identities of Fort Benning soldiers for the purpose of submitting approximately $20 million in bogus tax returns.
The story states that the co-conspirators allegedly operated the large-scale identity theft ring for a two-year period of time, during which more than 7,000 bogus tax returns were filed. It is alleged that the stolen identities used to file the false returns were captured from a military hospital, a correctional facility and a call center.
The article details that one of the co-defendants had access to personal military data, even those who were deployed overseas, from her job at the post hospital. (If true, that’s a pretty dirty trick to play on soldiers who were thousands of miles away from home with limited connection or ability to stop the fraud.) This same co-defendant and her daughter also allegedly obtained additional stolen identities from a correctional institution. Supposedly, two other defendants obtained other identities from their jobs at a call center. It is alleged that one of the women who worked in the call center sold all of the identities to other co-conspirators to file false tax returns.
According to the indictment, sham tax businesses were set up, electronic filing numbers were obtained and blank check stock enabled the defendants to accomplish the scheme. (Why is it so easy to obtain these credentials?) According to the story, tax refunds were directed to prepaid debit cards, U.S. Treasury checks and financial institutions that issued the refunds by checks or prepaid debit cards. The fraudulently-obtained checks were then cashed at several businesses across three states.
As always, these defendants are innocent until proven guilty. However, if convicted, they will face 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit fraud; 20 years in prison for each wire and mail fraud count; 15 years in prison for each count of access device fraud; and two years for each count of aggravated identity theft. That doesn’t include fines, forfeiture or mandatory restitution.
Identity theft is an enemy that can impact a person’s financial history for many years. In this case it is hard to understand why thieves would steal from soldiers, who place their lives on the line to protect U.S. citizens every day. It is a soldier’s job to defend our country from all foreign and domestic enemies, but until recently, they didn’t know that they would be attacked by an enemy back home. (It just goes to show that no one is safe from identity theft no matter how many precautions are taken.)