Pen Pal


Prison can get pretty lonely. Even though conditions within the prison system can be quite adverse, many incarcerated individuals cope by studying to further their education, writing articles or stories or adopting a pen pal. (There are many websites that claim to match prisoners up with pen pals on the outside.) A Department of Justice press release states that a Washington woman used the relationships she built with several prison inmates across the country to obtain personal information she later used to file fraudulent tax returns.

According to the story, the woman who happened to be incarcerated, as well, not only gleaned personal identifying information from the people she wrote to, but she also purchased information about people employed by a janitorial service from a co-conspirator. (The woman used the stolen information to file more than 150 fraudulent tax returns over a year.)

The fraudster sought more than $170,000 in tax refunds and received $56,000 at addresses controlled by friends and family members. (One of her victims claimed that the crime impacted their credit score and caused the denial of credit and job opportunities.)


The 45-year-old woman was sentenced to 30 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. She was also ordered to pay more than $56,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

The concept of providing prisoners with a positive influence through pen pal correspondence is certainly noble, but also risky. While there are prisoners who would not abuse a pen pal relationship, there are many that would see a pen pal as a potential resource. This case serves as a good example to criminals who are looking for victims to scam – you will eventually get caught. (And for those who want to be a positive influence in someone else’s life, think about writing to people serving in the military – your correspondence would be much safer and greatly appreciated.)

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on a press release titled, ”Tacoma Woman Who Led Tax Fraud and ID Theft Scheme Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison,” released by the Department of Justice on May 29, 2015.

A Tacoma, Washington woman who used a prison pen pal program to obtain other peoples’ personally identifying information was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 30 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. SHANNON HENDERSON, 45, filed more than 150 fraudulent tax returns between 2013 and 2014, seeking more than $170,000 in tax refunds. Some $56,000 in tax refunds were sent to HENDERSON at the addresses of friends and family members before the scheme was discovered. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said identity theft victimizes people ”for no reason other than greed.”

According to the plea agreement, between 2007 and 2009, while incarcerated at the Washington Women’s Correctional Center at Purdy, Washington, HENDERSON became pen pals with various inmates across the country and obtained the names and identifying information of real people from these inmates. HENDERSON also purchased the personal information of people who were employed in Washington State by ABM Janitorial Services from a co-conspirator in order to use these names to file false and fraudulent U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns. HENDERSON used both the names provided by inmates and the names purchased from the co-conspirator to file the fraudulent returns. HENDERSON had the fraudulently claimed refunds loaded onto prepaid debit cards and had the cards mailed to her using the addresses of friends and relatives.

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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.