Two people have been jailed for their involvement in a scam that exploited the US IRS "Get Transcript" website to defraud the American government.
A couple from Austell, Georgia, laundered more than $1m as part of a larger swindle that abused weaknesses in the taxmen's website to get the personal data needed to file fraudulent tax returns in the names of other taxpayers.
Anthony Alika, 42, was given 80 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering, while Sonia Alika, 27, was given 21 months for one count of illegally structuring cash withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements. The pair will also be ordered to pay the US Department of Justice more than $2m in restitution fines.
According to the DoJ, Anthony Alika conspired with another man to take out payment cards in the names of people whose taxpayer information had been stolen via the Get Transcript portal.
Those cards were then used to receive payments from refunds on bogus tax reports, at which point both Anthony and Sonia Alika performed transfers to funnel the money through their own accounts and those controlled by other criminals.
"This fraud conspiracy featured a literal highlight reel of our current economic crime threats, including cyber intrusions, identity theft, phony tax returns and money laundering, all to the order of millions of dollars," US Attorney John Horn said in a statement.
"These schemes create nightmares for citizens who endure the process of repairing their credit and IRS returns, and this case reflects law enforcement's commitment to punish these criminals and do all we can to prevent further victims."
Authorities have been warning of the likelihood of Get Transcript scams ever since the breach was first uncovered in 2015.
While not a technical flaw in the site itself, weak authentication requirements in the IRS site had allowed attackers already armed with personal information obtained from phishing operations or other data breaches to obtain the tax transcripts on hundreds of thousands of people. Those transcripts contained the information needed to file fake tax returns, the refunds from which were then received by the criminals.
One possible defense against the attack? Filing legitimate claims early in the year.
"Many tax fraudsters depend for their success on filing a fraudulent return with a stolen identity before their victims file their genuine returns," the DoJ said.
"Filing early and avoiding use of obvious usernames and passwords for online tax websites are two ways to help protect yourself." ®