Georgia Couple Confesses to IRS 'Get Transcript' Fraud SchemeDoJ: Defendants Profited From Filing Tax Returns Using Pilfered Taxpayer PII
A Georgia couple and a neighbor have pleaded guilty to a scheme involving illicitly obtaining taxpayer names and Social Security numbers to access the IRS' Get Transcript database, which helped them to file false tax returns to obtain refunds deposited to prepaid debit cards.
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Get Transcript, launched in January 2014, allows taxpayers to view and download their tax transcripts or have them mailed to their addresses. Since revealing a breach of the service, which affected as many as 724,000 taxpayers, last May, the IRS suspended Get Transcript's online viewing and downloading features, although the information can be obtained through an email request (see IRS Doubles Number of Get Transcript Victims).
In its announcement of the guilty pleas, the Justice Department did not say whether the defendants who pleaded guilty masterminded the Get Transcript breach scheme or were lower-level operatives.
Defendants Face Prison Terms
Anthony Alika of Austell, Ga., 42, on April 22 pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the Justice Department. His wife, Sonia Alika, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements. Sentencing for the couple is set for July 27. He could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison; she, 10 years. A third defendant, Rapheal Atebefia, 33, also of the Atlanta suburb of Austell, pleaded guilty last month to one count of money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced on that charge on June 22. All the defendants also face substantial monetary penalties, restitution and forfeitures.
Authorities charged the defendants with laundering the proceeds from a stolen identity refund fraud scheme. The indictment alleges that Anthony Alika and Atebefia obtained names and Social Security numbers of taxpayers from unknown sources and used this information to access the IRS Get Transcript database.
Stemming the Tide to Protect PII
"Criminals continually discover more sophisticated methods of stealing personal information and unfortunately seek to capitalize on this theft by filing phony tax returns demanding excessive refunds," John Horn, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in announcing the guilty pleas. "Because this is a growing problem, we are applying additional resources to help stem the tide and protect both our personal information and precious tax dollars."
In an attempt to disguise the filing of the false tax returns, the defendants and others used websites referred to as anonymizers, which act as an intermediary and privacy shield between the computers used by the defendants and others and the rest of the internet, the indictment says.
Authorities say Anthony Alika, Atebefia and others obtained prepaid debit cards from stores located in several states, registered the cards in the names of the stolen identities, filed false income tax returns using the stolen identities and information obtained from the Get Transcript database, and directed the IRS to deposit the tax refunds onto these cards. To conceal their fraud, the defendants and possible accomplices used the prepaid debit cards to purchase money orders, which the Alikas and Atebefia deposited into bank accounts at Wells Fargo and Bank of America, and then structured cash withdrawals of the proceeds to prevent the banks from filing currency transaction reports.
Keeping Transactions to Less Than $10,000
As part of his guilty plea, Anthony Alika admitted that during 2015 he received money orders from several individuals and deposited those orders, ranging from $250 to $9,000, into bank accounts in his name or had his wife deposit them into bank accounts in her name. Withdrawals were limited in size to evade requirements for banks to report transactions valued at $10,000 or more. Justice Department attorneys say the funds used to purchase the money orders were the proceeds of illegal activity, including the filing of fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities.
Sonia Alika admitted as part of her guilty plea that between February and June 2015, she withdrew more than $250,000 from multiple bank accounts she controlled in amounts less than $10,000.
The Justice Department, in announcing the guilty pleas, did not say how the Alikas and Atebefia obtained the names of taxpayers and their Social Security numbers to instigate the Get Transcript fraud. DoJ also did not explicitly say how much money the defendants allegedly stole or whether any of it was recovered.