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Authorities: Bay area criminals use fake identities to steal federal tax refunds

TAMPA — Dead people can still get federal tax refunds.

That's an identity theft trick that several Tampa Bay area criminals have figured out, according to court documents and arrest reports.

Thursday brought the arrest of Alexis Buchanan Harrison, 26, of Tampa — one in a line of people accused of filing tax returns with the names and Social Security numbers of deceased people, a search warrant shows.

Two days earlier, a Pasco County man, Gary J. Thomas, was accused of committing the same crime two dozen times.

His arrest report shows that he was suspected of being part of an organized fraud ring being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Tampa Police Department for three months.

Officials declined to comment on that investigation.

In the Tampa case, Harrison was charged with two counts of fraudulent use of personal information. She taught others the scheme as well, according to the affidavit for a search warrant executed on her home in May.

A woman arrested and charged with fraudulent use of a credit card in March told officers that Harrison had told her "she had a way to make easy money."

Harrison showed the woman how to prepare a tax return on TurboTax.com's free preparation site and gave her a list of accounts to receive the refund money and debit cards.

Harrison also showed her a genealogy site that lists the names, dates of birth, dates of death and Social Security numbers for millions of people, the affidavit said.

Social Security numbers were vetted by calling an IRS automated line that tells whether a return has already been filed under that number.

When police searched Harrison's home May 16, they confiscated 10 debit cards, $1,100 in cash, jewelry, computers, four TVs, three gaming systems, four cell phones, gift cards and miscellaneous receipts.

Evidence of illegal drug sales also was found, and Harrison's husband, Damien Harrison, 33, was arrested that day and remains in a Hillsborough County jail. On Thursday, six counts of fraudulent use of personal information were added to his charges, jail records show.

Filing false tax returns can be lucrative.

Larhonda Williams-McCoy of Tampa was ordered to pay the IRS more that $81,000 when she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Jan. 20, records show.

Williams-McCoy admitted in a plea agreement to filing 36 tax returns with other people's information for a total of $148,000. She pleaded guilty to making false or fraudulent claims and committing fraud with identification documents. She could have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Upon her release, she'll have 36 months of supervision.

On Thursday afternoon, Harrison was freed from a Hillsborough County jail on $4,000 bail.

Authorities: Bay area criminals use fake identities to steal federal tax refunds 09/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 9:53am]
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