Florida student aid accounts used in ID theft

MIAMI –
Accounts used by South Florida college students to receive financial aid were used in a scheme to file fraudulent income tax returns using stolen identities.

Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said Tuesday that 21 people have been charged, most of them current or former students at Miami Dade College. The students were using their Higher One aid accounts to deposit fraudulent tax refunds.

Ferrer said the scheme involved $1.9 million in intended loss to the Internal Revenue Service, with nearly $500,000 paid out. There were at least 644 victims of identity theft in these cases.

“The actions of these individuals are in no way a reflection of the vast majority of the hardworking, honest students at Miami Dade College looking to improve their lives and their families’ (lives),” school spokesman Juan C. Mendieta said in a statement. “In fact, the situation was reportedly orchestrated by individuals not connected to the college, taking advantage of often vulnerable students. It’s also important to note that what has reportedly transpired is not a result of a lack of vigilance and pro-activeness on the part of the college. We look forward to a thorough review and resolution of this matter and are working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

All but three of the suspects are former or current Miami Dade College students. Eighteen of the suspects were in custody Tuesday, while three others remained at large.

Most of those arrested face between two and 10 years in prison if convicted.

The IRS said Florida, and particularly South Florida, is the nation’s leading hotbed for ID theft used for tax fraud.

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