What's Not to "Like"?

7/22/2013

Let's imagine, just for a minute, that you decided on a new line of work: ripping off the IRS. How do you think you would launch your new business? Maybe you'd open a secret bank account in one of those "sunny places for shady people" like the Cayman Islands or Bahamas. You might rent a secret flop house where you could hide evidence of your crimes. And you'd probably look for someone who could make you a fake passport, just in case the heat comes down and you have to flee the country under a secret identity. You probably wouldn't post anything about your new career online. Right?  

However, if you're Rashia Wilson – the self-appointed "first lady of tax fraud" – you’d brag about it all on Facebook. Why play it safe and discreet when you can pose for pictures with stacks of cash in your hands to mock the authorities? Why wouldn’t you want to post a status like this:  

"I'm Rashia, the queen of IRS tax fraud. . . . I'm a millionaire for the record, so if U think indicting me will B easy it won't, I promise you!”

Wilson is a 27-year-old mother of three in Tampa who recruited friends and family to steal Social Security numbers and file false tax returns, directing the very real refunds to reloadable debit cards. She stole so much that authorities dubbed their investigation "Operation Rain Maker" because of all the cash raining down on the suspects' mailboxes. Even more incredibly, they first caught wind of her scam in 2010 when they noticed a drop in illegal drug dealing in the area. Their theory, which proved correct, was that Wilson's henchmen had abandoned their previous careers trading agricultural commodities and switched to an easier and more lucrative enterprise. NPR even ran a story about the peculiar rise (refund fraud) and fall (violence) of crime in South Florida (and really, who wouldn't want to trade standing on a hot Tampa street corner for a cushy, air-conditioned indoor gig?).  

Wilson treated herself to just the sort of lavish lifestyle you'd expect from the queen of tax fraud. She spent $30,000 on a party to celebrate her son's first birthday (including carnival rides for guests to play on). She spent $90,000 for an Audi A8L sedan. And she filled her house with pricey purses, shoes, and flat-screen TVs.  

Eventually, though, the party came to an end at the hands of a joint task force involving the Tampa Police Department, IRS Criminal Investigations unit, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspectors, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The investigation took two years (one has to wonder if any of the officers and agents involved had Facebook accounts). In April, Wilson pled guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Last week, a federal judge sentenced her to 21 years in prison and ordered her to pay $3.1 million in restitution. But authorities believe she and her gang actually stole more than $20 million in all.  

While Rashia Wilson’s highly organized scam came to light due to her own folly, there are numerous refund fraud operations out there and the crime continues to rise. It is an extremely serious matter and the IRS has several initiatives in place to combat the practice. For more information, go to the special identity protection page on the IRS website.