The Spectacle Blog

Identity Thieves Used TurboTax to Steal Refund, Arizona Woman Says

By on 2.14.14 | 1:02AM

Identity thieves are now targeting taxpayers who file their tax returns online, and one Arizona woman who was victimized says she is frustrated by the response from both the Internal Revenue Service and the providers of TurboTax software.

"Their response is, 'There's nothing we can do about it,'" Kelli Branscomb said, describing her experience trying to get help from TurboTax, being put "on hold for 45 minutes" while trying to reach their customer service representatives. "I told TurboTax, 'The problem is you,' but they accept no responsibility."

Branscomb and her husband filed their tax return last month, and the Mesa, Ariz., woman explained in a Facebook post how the couple became victims: "Someone went into Turbo Tax and took our refund. It was sent to American Express. We have the account number, routing number, and email. We suspected it Jan 18th and called Turbo Tax. They told us that there was nothing they could do to check into it and we would have to wait and see if we get our refund. Our refund was deposited into the perp's account yesterday. . . . People need to be aware that Turbo Tax has been hacked and not only that, they don't care they've been hacked. It's NOT secure!"

Branscomb said she filed a police report and contacted the Arizona state attorney general's office. Apparently, Branscomb's problem is not unusual. A blog called "Hacked by TurboTax" features information about identity theft and tax fraud. The blogger says he was victimized in 2012.

Criminals face prosecution for such schemes. Two weeks ago, a Florida woman was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for a scam using TurboTax:

U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew [Jan. 30] sentenced Jennifer Meier Hunt to two years and six months in federal prison for committing stolen identity refund fraud. As part of her sentence, the court also entered a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $97,238, representing the proceeds of the tax fraud.
Hunt pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government property and one count of aggravated identity theft on June 25, 2013.
According to court documents, in April 2011, a confidential informant told agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that certain employees of a Tampa-based professional staffing company were filing fraudulent income tax returns using TurboTax.com. Three individuals involved in the conspiracy were then identified by agents, supervisors of the staffing company, and Turbo Tax. On May 19, 2011, federal search warrants were executed at the residences of these three individuals. The investigation subsequently revealed that between February 2, 2011 and May 2, 2011, Hunt used stolen identities to electronically file 75 fraudulent federal income tax returns in order to obtain refunds to which she was not entitled. The value of the refunds that would have resulted from the filed returns totaled approximately $187,687. Although some of the returns were rejected by the Internal Revenue Service, 47 of the fraudulent returns were accepted, resulting in the issuance of $97,238 in tax refunds to debit cards under the control of Hunt. None of the victims of the fraudulently iled tax returns, which included a number of deceased individuals, had authorized Hunt to open or use a debit card in their name. Neither had anyone authorized the conspirators to file a tax return on his or her behalf.

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