“F” Is for Fraud

Student Loan Application form with glasses and ballpoint pen

Federal student aid provides financial assistance so that higher education can be more readily available to students. Some fraudsters seek to exploit federal aid programs by fraudulently taking out loans using other’s names. (Fraudsters seeking to take advantage of Federal student loan programs receive an “F” in my gradebook.)

Florida resident April Thornton was sentenced for orchestrating a student financial aid fraud scheme. Authorities first discovered Thorton’s fradulent activity when a deputy executed a legal search on her car during a routine traffic stop in 2014.

The deputy discovered a large quantity of personal identity information, financial information, and medical information not belonging to Thornton. This included college ID cards, debit cards, and social security numbers. (I can barely keep track of the cards I have in my wallet let alone the information of thousands of people. Was all this stuff just tossed in her back seat like empty candy bar wrappers?)  

Some of the stolen personal information was linked to victims of student aid fraud. This led investigators to discover that Thornton used the information of 32 students to fraudulently receive $121,238 in student loans. (That amount could easily pay for exactly one four-year bachelor’s degree – maybe a fifth year for a slacker.)  

Thornton illegally possessed the identities of 2,300 people and was trying to use their information to obtain more than $1.5 million in various benefits. She additionally filed more than 202 false tax returns using the stolen identities between 2011 and 2013. Thornton’s tax return filings led to her fraudulently receive $217,738 in refunds.

Thornton was indicted in 2018 on 22 counts of identity theft charges (What about the other two thousand identities?) She was recently sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $340,000 in restitution to the IRS and the U.S. Department of Education.

This student loan fraud scheme not only defrauded the U.S Department of Education but hard working taxpayers who help to fund individual’s dreams of receiving a higher education. (Maybe if Thornton had been a better student of ethics, she wouldn’t have tried to carry out this scheme.)  

Note to students: remain vigilant in protecting your information. Frequently review your credit and student account to ensure that everything in your name is legitimate. If you are a victim of student loan fraud, you should contact the inspector general’s office through the U.S. Department of Education by calling 1-800-MIS-USED right away.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “Woman Sentenced to Prison in Tax Refund, Student Loan Scams,” published by US News and World Report on August 29, 2020.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A Florida woman who stole identity information of more than 2,300 people has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $340,000 in restitution to the federal government for bogus income tax refunds and student financial aid that she received.

U.S. District Judge Louis Sands sentenced 35-year-old April Thornton of Lake Alfred, Florida, on Thursday in Albany, Georgia. Thornton pleaded guilty in October to possession of more than 15 unauthorized names and Social Security numbers.

Additional Article: https://www.irs.gov/compliance/criminal-investigation/prison-restitution-ordered-for-florida-woman-guilty-in-a-student-financial-aid-identity-theft-scheme





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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.