Tax Refund Fraud


1
Oct 14

ID Theft Service Customer Gets 27 Months

A Florida man was sentenced today to 27 months in prison for trying to purchase Social Security numbers and other data from an identity theft service that pulled consumer records from a subsidiary of credit bureau Experian.

Ngo's ID theft service superget.info

Ngo’s ID theft service superget.info

Derric Theoc, 36, pleaded guilty to attempting to purchase Social Security and bank account records on more than 100 Americans with the intent to open credit card accounts and file fraudulent tax returns in the victims’ names. According to prosecutors, Theoc had purchased numerous records from Superget.info, a now-defunct online identity theft service that was run by Vietnamese individual named Hieu Minh Ngo.

Ngo was arrested in 2012 by U.S. Secret Service agents, after he was lured to Guam by an undercover investigator who’d proposed a business deal to expand Ngo’s personal consumer data stores. As part of a guilty plea, Ngo later admitted that he’d obtained personal information on consumers from a variety of data broker companies by posing as a private investigator based in the United States.

Among the biggest brokers that Ngo bought from was Court Ventures, a company that was acquired in March 2012 by Experian — one of the three major credit bureaus. Court records show that for almost ten months after Experian completed that acquisition, Ngo continued siphoning consumer data and paying for the information via cash wire transfers from a bank in Singapore.

After Ngo’s arrest, Secret Service investigators in early 2013 quietly assumed control over his identity theft service in the hopes of identifying and arresting at least some of his more than 1,000 paying customers.

Theoc is just the latest in a string of identity thieves to have been rounded up for attempting to purchase additional records after the service came under the government’s control. In May, I wrote about another big beneficiary of Ngo’s service: An identity theft ring of at least 32 people who were arrested last year for allegedly using the information to steal millions from more than 1,000 victims across the country. Continue reading →


19
May 14

Experian Breach Tied to NY-NJ ID Theft Ring

Last year, a top official from big-three credit bureau Experian told Congress that the firm was not aware of any consumers that had been harmed by an incident in which a business unit of Experian sold consumer records directly to an online identity theft service for nearly 10 months. Today’s post presents evidence that among the ID theft service’s clients was an identity theft and credit card fraud ring of at least 32 people who were arrested last year for allegedly using the information to steal millions from more  than 1,000 victims across the country.

Ngo's ID theft service superget.info

Ngo’s ID theft service superget.info

On March 31, 2014, 26-year-old Idris Soyemi of Brooklyn, New York pleaded guilty in a New Hampshire court to one count of wire fraud. In Soyemi’s guilty plea hearing, the prosecutor laid out how Soyemi on several occasions bought Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other personal information from an online identity theft service run by guy named Hieu Minh Ngo.

Ngo is a Vietnamese national who for several years ran an online identity theft service called superget.info. Shortly after my 2011 initial story about his service, Ngo tauntingly renamed his site to findget.me. The Secret Service took him up on that challenge, and succeeded in luring him out of Vietnam into Guam, where he was arrested and brought to New Hampshire for trial. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to running the ID theft service, and the government has been working on rounding up his customers ever since.

According to Soyemi’s guilty plea transcript (PDF), U.S. Secret Service agents seized control over Ngo’s email account in February 2013 and used it to interact with his customers. Posing as Ngo, the undercover agent reached out to Soyemi and wrote, “I’m back. You doing tax refund or credit card?”, asking Soyemi whether he was buying personal data on consumers to set up new lines of credit in their names or to file fraudulent tax refund requests with the IRS — a rapidly growing form of cybercrime. Soyemi responded, “I do credit cards but can you tell me about tax refund?” (if you missed last month’s story about an Ohio man who’s accused of using Ngo’s service to file at least 150 fraudulent tax refund requests with the IRS, check that out here).

Interestingly, Soyemi was part of a huge network of nearly three dozen people who were rounded up last year and charged with taking out new credit cards in victims’ names and then using the cards to make millions of dollars in retail purchases that were then fenced on the black market. From an April 2013 story in the Jersey Journal:

“The leaders of the group, authorities say, purchased the identities of unsuspecting victims from online brokers, who got the information from computer hackers across the United States….”

“In a process known as ‘punching,’ electronic account information from the cards’ magnetic strips would be transferred onto counterfeit cards, which were provided to “strikers” who conducted the purchases at retailers all over the Eastern Seaboard, authorities say…”

….”The investigation has identified nearly 1,000 victims across the country and millions of dollars in phony transactions, authorities say.”

“Authorities say the suspects spent the proceeds on luxury cars, high-end jewelry and other lavish expenses. Some of the money was additionally sent to accounts in Nigeria, authorities say.”

Further tying this group to Ngo’s service is a four-count indictment (PDF) lodged against another man named in that identity theft ring roundup by the New Jersey prosecutor’s office: Oluwaseun Adekoya, 25, of Sewaren, NJ. Adekoya’s indictment makes numerous references to his alleged purchase of hundreds of consumer records from an online identity theft service that was taken over by U.S. Secret Service agents in February 2013 (recall that in Soyemi’s guilty plea hearing government prosecutors said that in that same month undercover Secret Service agents assumed control of the email account tied to Ngo’s identity theft service). Continue reading →


30
Apr 14

Tax Fraud Gang Targeted Healthcare Firms

Earlier this month, I wrote about an organized cybercrime gang that has been hacking into HR departments at organizations across the country and filing fraudulent tax refund requests with the IRS on employees of those victim firms. Today, we’ll look a bit closer at the activities of this crime gang, which appears to have targeted a large number of healthcare and senior living organizations that were all using the same third-party payroll and HR services provider.

taxfraudAs I wrote in the previous story, KrebsOnSecurity encountered a Web-based control panel that an organized criminal gang has been using to track bogus tax returns filed on behalf of employees at hacked companies whose HR departments had been relieved of W-2 forms for all employees.

Among the organizations listed in that panel were Plaintree Inc. and Griffin Faculty Practice Plan. Both entities are subsidiaries of Derby, Conn.-based Griffin Health Services Corp.

Steve Mordecai, director of human resources at Griffin Hospital, confirmed that a security breach at his organization had exposed the personal and tax data on “a limited number of employees for Griffin Health Services Corp. and Griffin Hospital.” Mordecai said the attackers obtained the information after stealing the organization’s credentials at a third-party payroll and HR management provider called UltiPro.

Mordecai said that the bad guys only managed to steal data on roughly four percent of the organization’s employees, but he declined to say how many employees the healthcare system currently has. An annual report (PDF) from 2009 states that Griffin Hospital alone had more than 1,384 employees.

Griffin employee tax records, as recorded in the fraudsters' Web-based control panel.

Griffin employee tax records, as recorded in the fraudsters’ Web-based control panel.

“Fortunately for us it was a limited number of employees who may have had their information breached or stolen,” Mordecai said. “There is a criminal investigation with the FBI that is ongoing, so I can’t say much more.”

The FBI did not return calls seeking comment. But according Reuters, the FBI recently circulated a private notice to healthcare providers, warning that the “cybersecurity systems at many healthcare providers are lax compared to other sectors, making them vulnerable to attacks by hackers searching for Americans’ personal medical records and health insurance data.”

According to information in their Web-based control panel, the attackers responsible for hacking into Griffin also may have infiltrated an organization called Medical Career Center Inc., but that could not be independently confirmed.

This crime gang also appears to have targeted senior living facilities, including SL Bella Terra LLC, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp, an assisted living firm that operates in seven states. Senior Living did not return calls seeking comment.

In addition, the attackers hit  Swan Home Health LLC  in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., a company that recently changed its named to EnlivantMonica Lang, vice president of communications for Enlivant, said Swan Home Health is a subsidiary of Chicago-based Assisted Living Concepts Inc., an organization that owns and operates roughly 200 assisted living facilities in 20 states.

Swan Home Health employee's tax info, as recorded by the fraudsters.

Swan Home Health employee’s tax info, as recorded by the fraudsters.

ALC disclosed in March 2014 that a data breach in December 2013 had exposed the personal information on approximately 43,600 current and former employees. In its March disclosure, ALC said that its internal employee records were compromised after attackers stole login credentials to the company’s third-party payroll provider.

That disclosure didn’t name the third-party provider, but every victim organization I’ve spoken with that’s been targeted by this crime gang had outsourced their payroll and/or human resources operations to UltiPro.

Enlivant’s Lang confirmed that the company also relied on UltiPro, and that some employees have come forward to report attempts to file fraudulent tax refunds on their behalf with the IRS.

“We believe that [the attackers] accessed employee names, addresses, birthdays, Social Security numbers and pay information, which is plenty to get someone going from a tax fraud perspective,” Lang said in a telephone interview. Continue reading →


22
Apr 14

States: Spike in Tax Fraud Against Doctors

An unusual number of physicians in several U.S. states are just finding out that they’ve been victimized by tax return fraud this year, KrebsOnSecurity has learned. An apparent spike in tax fraud cases against medical professionals is fueling speculation that the crimes may have been prompted by a data breach at some type of national organization that certifies or provides credentials for physicians.

taxfraudScott Colby, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said he started hearing from physicians in his state about a week ago, when doctors who were just filing their tax returns began receiving notices from the Internal Revenue Service that someone had already filed their taxes and claimed a large refund.

So far, Colby has heard from 111 doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in New Hampshire who have been victims of tax fraud this year.

“I’ve been here four years and this is the first time this issue has come across my desk,” Colby said.

In this increasingly common crime, thieves steal or purchase Social Security numbers and other data on consumers, and then electronically file fraudulent tax returns claiming a large refund. The thieves instruct the IRS to send the refund to a bank account that is tied to a prepaid debit card, which the fraudster can then use to withdraw cash at an ATM (for more on how this works, see last week’s story, Crimeware Helps File Fraudulent Tax Returns).

Unlike the scam I wrote about last week — which involved the theft of credentials to third-party payroll and HR providers that are then used to pull W2 records and file bogus tax returns on all company employees — the tax fraud being perpetrated against the physicians Colby is tracking is more selective.

“We’ve done a broadcast to all of the hospital systems in the state, and I have yet to receive one [victim] name from a non-clinician,” Colby said. “And you would think if it was an HR or payroll issue that at least a couple of administrative, non-clinical folks would have been in the mix, but that is not the case.”

AN EPIDEMIC OF TAX FRAUD?

Colby said he’s heard similar reports from other states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and Vermont.

Elaine Ellis Stone, director of communications at the North Carolina Medical Society, said her organization has been contacted by more than 100 individual doctors and medical practice managers complaining about tax fraud committed in the names of their doctors and other medical staff. Continue reading →


21
Apr 14

An Allegation of Harm

In December 2013, an executive from big-three credit reporting bureau Experian told Congress that the company was not aware of any consumers who had been harmed by an incident in which a business unit of Experian sold consumer records directly to an online identity theft service for nearly 10 months. This blog post examines the harm allegedly caused to consumers by just one of the 1,300 customers of that ID theft service — an Ohio man the government claims used the data to file fraudulent tax returns on dozens of Americans last year.

Defendant Lance Ealy.

Defendant Lance Ealy.

In February, I was contacted via Facebook by 28-year-old Lance Ealy from Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Ealy said he needed to speak with me about the article I wrote in October 2013 — Experian Sold Consumer Data to ID Theft Service. Ealy told me he’d been arrested by the U.S. Secret Service on Nov. 25, 2013 for allegedly using his email account to purchase Social Security numbers and other personal information from an online identity theft service run by guy named Hieu Minh Ngo.

“I really need to speak with u about this case because the US attorney assigned to this case and the Secret Service agent are trying to cover up Experian involvement in this case,” Ealy said, without elaborating on his theory about the alleged cover-up.

Ngo is a Vietnamese national who for several years ran an online identity theft service called Superget.info. Shortly after my 2011 initial story about his service, Ngo tauntingly renamed his site to findget.me. The Secret Service took him up on that challenge, and succeeded in luring him out of Vietnam into Guam, where he was arrested and brought to New Hampshire for trial. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to running the ID theft service, and the government has been working on rounding up his customers ever since.

Mr. Ealy appears to be one of several individuals currently battling charges of identity theft after allegedly buying data from Ngo’s service, which relied in part on data obtained through a company owned by Experian.

According to the complaint (PDF) against Ealy, government investigators obtained a search warrant for Ngo’s email account in March 2013. Going through that email, investigators found that a customer of Ngo’s who used the address lanceealy123@yahoo.com had already purchased from Ngo some 363 “fullz” — a term used in the underground to describe a package of everything one would need to steal someone’s identity, including their Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, birth date, address, phone number, email address, bank account information and passwords.

The Justice Department alleges that between Jan. 28, 2013 and Oct. 17, 2013, Ealy filed at least 150 fraudulent tax returns on Americans, instructing the IRS to send the refund money to prepaid credit card accounts he controlled. The government claims that about 50 of those bogus claims were made with Social Security numbers and other data obtained from Ngo’s ID theft service. Continue reading →


14
Apr 14

Crimeware Helps File Fraudulent Tax Returns

Many companies believe that if they protect their intellectual property and customers’ information, they’ve done a decent job of safeguarding their crown jewels from attackers. But in an increasingly common scheme, cybercriminals are targeting the Human Resources departments at compromised organizations and rapidly filing fraudulent federal tax returns on all employees.

Last month, KrebsOnSecurity encountered a Web-based control panel that an organized criminal gang has been using to track bogus tax returns filed on behalf of employees at hacked companies whose HR departments had been relieved of W2 forms for all employees.

The control panel for a tax fraud botnet involving more than a half dozen victim organizations.

An obfuscated look at the he control panel for a tax fraud operation involving more than a half dozen victim organizations.

According to the control panel seen by this reporter, the scammers in charge of this scheme have hacked more than a half-dozen U.S. companies, filing fake tax returns on nearly every employee. At last count, this particular scam appears to stretch back to the beginning of this year’s tax filing season, and includes fraudulent returns filed on behalf of thousands of people — totaling more than $1 million in bogus returns.

The control panel includes a menu listing every employee’s W2 form, including all data needed to successfully file a return, such as the employee’s Social Security number, address, wages and employer identification number. Each fake return was apparently filed using the e-filing service provided by H&R Block, a major tax preparation and filing company. H&R Block did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

The "drops" page of this tax  fraud operation lists the nicknames of the co-conspirators who agreed to "cash out" funds on the prepaid cards generated by the bogus returns -- minus a small commission.

The “drops” page of this tax fraud operation lists the nicknames of the co-conspirators who agreed to “cash out” funds on the prepaid cards generated by the bogus returns — minus a small commission.

Fraudulent returns listed in the miscreants’ control panel that were successfully filed produced a specific five-digit tax filing Personal Identification Number (PIN) apparently generated by H&R Block’s online filing system. An examination of the panel suggests that successfully-filed returns are routed to prepaid American Express cards that are requested to be sent to addresses in the United States corresponding to specific “drops,” or co-conspirators in the scheme who have agreed to receive the prepaid cards and “cash out” the balance — minus their fee for processing the bogus returns.

Alex Holden, chief information security officer at Hold Security, said although tax fraud is nothing new, automating the exploitation of human resource systems for mass tax fraud is an innovation.

“The depth of this specific operation permits them to act as a malicious middle-man and tax preparation company to be an unwitting ‘underwriter’ of this crime,” Holden said. “And the victims maybe exploited not only for 2013 tax year but also down the road,  and perhaps subject of higher scrutiny by IRS — not to mention potential financial losses. Companies should look at their human resource infrastructure to ensure that payroll, taxes, financial, medical, and other benefits are afforded the same level of protection as their other mission-critical assets.” Continue reading →


3
Feb 14

File Your Taxes Before the Fraudsters Do

Jan. 31 marked the start of the 2014 tax filing season, and if you haven’t yet started working on your returns, here’s another reason to get motivated: Tax fraudsters and identity thieves may very well beat you to it.

According to a 2013 report from the Treasury Inspector General’s office, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued nearly $4 billion in bogus tax refunds in 2012. The money largely was sent to people who stole Social Security numbers and other information on U.S. citizens, and then filed fraudulent tax returns on those individuals claiming a large refund but at a different address.

There are countless shops in the cybercrime underground selling data that is especially useful for scammers engaged in tax return fraud. Typically, these shops will identify their wares as “fullz,” which include a consumer’s first name, last name, middle name, email address (and in some cases email password) physical address, phone number, date of birth, and Social Security number.

This fraud shop caters to thieves involved in tax return fraud.

This underground shop sells consumer identity data, catering to tax return fraud.

The shop pictured above, for example, caters to tax fraudsters, as evidenced by its advice to customers of the service, which can be used to find information that might help scammers establish lines of credit (PayPal accounts, credit cards) in someone else’s name:

“You can use on paypal credit, prepaid cards etc. After buying try to search by address and u can see children, wife and all people at this address,” the fraud shop explains, advising customers on ways to find the names and additional information on the taxpayer’s children (because more dependents mean greater tax deductions and higher refunds): “It’s great for tax return method, because u can get $$$ for ‘your’ children.”

Continue reading →