ATLANTA – The tax return called for the refund to be sent to a Wal-Mart employee — not the country’s most powerful law enforcement official.
Yet the return, filed a year ago, used the name, Social Security number and date of birth of Eric Holder. The U.S. attorney general had just become a victim of identity theft fraud.
The case, prosecuted in Atlanta, shows how easy it is to gain access to personal information and exploit it for financial gain. The Holder case, for example, involved two former high school buddies, now 21, who have both pleaded guilty.
“Identity theft has literally exploded,” U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said. “If the attorney general of the United States can be victimized, anyone can.”
Everyone will have their identity stolen one day, security experts say.
“Identity theft is becoming the third certainty in life,” said Adam Levin, the former director of New Jersey’s office of consumer affairs and chairman of Identity Theft 911. “It’s getting worse. You can put off the day of reckoning, but inevitably at some point in your life you’ll become a victim.”
IRS doubles staffing
Last year, the IRS assigned more than 3,000 employees to work on identity theft cases, twice as many as the year before. From 2011 through November 2013, the IRS stopped 14.6 million suspicious tax returns, protecting more than $50 billion in fraudulent refunds, the agency said.
Such was the case with the return filed under Holder’s name, which the IRS caught before it was fully processed.
The two men who obtained Holder’s and others’ personal IDs from black market Internet sites were able to process a number of fraudulent claims.
The scam was carried out by Yafait Tadesse, then a University of West Georgia student and a former honor student at Southwest DeKalb High School, and Eyaso Abebe, a Stone Mountain, Ga., man who described himself on Facebook as an “Importer/Exporter” for Vandelay Industries — the fictional company concocted by George Constanza on the TV show “Seinfeld.”
Tadesse was recently sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. Abebe is to be sentenced in August.
Tadesse’s lawyer, federal defender Suzanne Hashimi, said there is no evidence that either defendant recognized Holder’s name or knew he was the attorney general.
Refunds on prepaid cards
The fake returns filed by Tadesse and Abebe claimed refunds for Wal-Mart employees earning similar wages. These were to be loaded onto prepaid debit cards that listed the address of Tadesse’s apartment in Carrollton, Ga.
Once federal authorities were alerted that a refund was issued under Holder’s name, they tracked the filing to an IP address in Abebe’s neighborhood. Prosecutors said Abebe was using his neighbor’s wireless connection to file the fraudulent returns, and agents later obtained surveillance videos showing Tadesse using one of the prepaid cards at stores.
The men sought $24,050 in refunds; only $4,014 was issued.