A gang called the North Miami Boyz stole the identities of current and former Miami-Dade students to file at least 1,000 fraudulent tax refunds, police said.
Authorities said they know of at least $1.6 million in returns that were filed in the identity theft and tax fraud scheme. According to an indictment, the North Miami Boyz carried out their scheme from about January 2010 to December 2011 – but police warn that the source of the students’ personal data still hasn't been determined.
Investigators said the group portrayed themselves as music industry moguls, flashing jewelry and big cash, but it was all a front for the tax fraud scheme using students’ personal information to get tax refunds.
“Every single victim that we came across was either a current or former student of Miami-Dade public schools,” North Miami Beach Police Detective Craig Catlin told NBC 6. “So there is a point of compromise with the Miami-Dade public school system.”
Lesley Dunn, a former student at Palmetto Senior High School, was one of the victims.
“My information was exposed (through) the county schools, and my identity was stolen,” she said.
Dunn said police came to visit her when she was a student at Palmetto Senior High. Someone had gotten a hold of her private personal data, filled out a tax return and even received a refund – all by posing as her.
“There was a ring of thieves, I guess you would call it, associated with the Dade County school system, that had been stealing IDs or Social Security numbers,” said her mother, Debbie Dunn.
She was just one of many teens victimized, according to police.
“They probably did at least a thousand fraudulent refunds,” Catlin said. “But they attempted a lot more than they received.”
Federal prosecutors took the North Miami Boyz – identified by authorities as Willman Philidor, Alland Philidor, Frantz Plantin, Frantz Desir and Arthur Blain – to court after their arrests on tax fraud charges. They entered guilty pleas and are now in federal prison.
Catlin said the estimated 1,000 victims so far are at multiple schools. Social Security numbers were just part of the personal information obtained, and the students were given fake jobs on the tax returns so the IRS would process the refunds.
“The IRS, as far as I know, cannot flag your name to prevent a fraudulent return from going through,” Catlin said.
Federal agents and police said the North Miami Boyz also set up fake businesses to take in the tax refunds filed from the returns using in the students’ data.
“They actually set up business accounts pretending to be actual businessmen and they did fraudulent returns on the computer,” Catlin said.
Catlin said the source of the students’ personal data hasn't been determined, and students across the public school system are still at risk of having their identities stolen too. Police are still investigating “the point of compromise from the school system,” he said.
A Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesman sought to reassure parents about the safety of their kids’ information.
“Approximately two years ago the school district took very swift, decisive action to limit access to student information at all school sites,” said John Schuster, the school district’s chief communications officer, in a statement. “This highly effective, multi-pronged approach should help parents feel confident that their children's information is secure.”
Now, students and former students like Lesley Dunn are going to have to wait and see what impact the scheme could have on their credit and finances.
“I don't really know how it’s going to affect me later in life, but hopefully nothing horrible,” Dunn said.