Feds: $12 million ID theft scam used personal info bought online, acquired from FAFSA website

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Two people were indicted on federal charges related to a $12 million scam in which they stole identities in order to file fake tax returns and profit from the refunds.

Taiwo K. Onamuti, 29, Doraville, Ga., and Muideen A. Adebule, 49, Indianapolis, face 23 federal charges including aggravated identity theft, identity theft, false claims and conspiracy.

The indictment alleges that Onamuti and Adebule acquired personal information by buying it online or getting the information through the “data retrieval tool” on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website. The two—and others who worked with them—then used the names, birthdates and Social Security numbers to file false tax returns with the IRS, prosecutors said.

They filed thousands of fake tax returns electronically and directed the IRS to deposit the refunds on prepaid debit cards that were then used to buy money orders in Indiana and Georgia. In total, the scammers obtained or attempted to obtain $12,686,634 in federal tax refunds, prosecutors said.

The alleged scam ran from March 2014 through March 2016. The Department of Education and IRS later removed the data retrieval tool from student loan websites until extra security protections could be added; the tool’s removal disrupted the application process for students and families seeking financial aid.

“The Onamuti organization is responsible for stealing the identities of thousands of victims, including students who were simply trying to apply for financial aid,” said U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler. “The organization’s criminal conduct disrupted countless lives, and led to the theft of more than $12 million from the United States Treasury—money that could and should have been spent for the benefit of the taxpayer.”

Federal prosecutors said that the charges carry maximum sentences of 5 to 15 years’ imprisonment, and for the aggravated identity theft charges, 2 years’ imprisonment to be served consecutively.

The investigation into the scam included the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Education and the United States Postal Inspection Service.