Newspapers and media Web sites regularly publish lists of people who are owed money by public institutions; if anyone bothers to read them, they check their name hoping to see they've forgotten all about that five-digit deposit in some bank they used to use.
Then they move on, crushed.
Not Roxann Michelle Thomas, according to federal prosecutors. She got herself almost a half-million dollars by trolling the lists and putting in claims for cash using fake IDs.
Who knew it could be so easy? Turns out it wasn't, of course, but possibly that's because Thomas wasn't exactly active in covering her tracks.
The U.S. Postal Service first got a tip from the Indiana Attorney General's office in January 2010 that someone had put in a false claim for funds. "Around the same time," the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston says, "agents also received a tip from TD Ameritrade Bank concerning the deposit of numerous Harris County tax refund checks into an account that had been opened using a stolen identity."
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Investigators got security-cam video of Thomas cashing checks she'd received fraudulently, and when they got a search warrant for her apartment, they found "Harris County Tax Office and Texas State Comptroller checks issued in the names of other persons, fraudulent identifications, multiple cell phones and manila file folders with labels containing the names of victims whose identifications were used."
Busted, pretty much.
Thomas entered a guilty plea yesterday to charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. She faces 20 years in prison.
"Also accused for her alleged involvement in this scheme is Tawana Renelda Scott, 29, who remains a fugitive," the USAO says. "Anyone with information about her whereabouts can call the U.S. Postal Inspector's 24-hour National Law Enforcement Communication Center at 888-876-5322."