With Tax Day right around the corner, it’s a given that the government will see an increase in fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities. When tax returns are submitted closer to the annual deadline, the chance is greater for having a criminal steal your identity and your tax refund check. To circumvent tax return fraud, many turn to a trusted tax preparer to file a return. An article posted on Examiner.com reports on an untrustworthy tax preparation business owner, who victimized his customers, making off with more than $350,000 in refund checks. (Sometimes it’s hard to protect yourself against fraud – it is everywhere.)

The story states that the 44-year-old tax preparer stole customer names, birthdates, Social Security numbers and addresses with the intent of filing fraudulent tax returns and requesting tax refunds in the names of the stolen identities. He then printed out checks addressed to his victims in an amount less a ”tax preparation” fee, which was deposited into his personal bank account. Then, he went next door to a check cashing store and used fraudulent driver’s licenses to cash the checks.

The tax preparer pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He faces a maximum 20-year sentence for the wire fraud charge and a mandatory two year prison term for the identity theft charge.

Unfortunately, victims don’t know that their identity has been stolen until they try to file their federal taxes and the government reports back with the unfortunate news that their check has already been sent out – to someone else. For almost a year, this criminal cashed approximately $355,000 in fraudulent refund checks, victimizing his customers, who had trusted him with their personal information. It’s a pretty safe bet that this criminal will no longer be allowed to operate his fraudulent business in jail. (The only things he will be counting are the bars on his jail cell.)

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty in Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Scheme,” written by William E. Lewis, Jr. and published by Examiner.com on March 21, 2014.

Oakland Park tax preparer Louis A. Francois pled guilty Thursday to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Wifredo A. Ferrer.

Francois, 44, of Margate, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5th before U.S. District Court Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks. He faces a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison for the wire fraud charge and a mandatory term of two years in prison – consecutive to any other term in prison – for the aggravated identity theft charge.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.