Posing as IRS agents demanding back taxes, a group of people from Miami browbeat more than 1,500 people into shelling out nearly $2 million, federal authorities said this week.
The five people were arrested in Miami on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy.
Federal prosecutors say the group called thousands of victims in at least three states, threatening arrest unless they paid “back taxes.” The scam worked, with the victims agreeing to wire the sham agents money.
“No legitimate United States Treasury or IRS official will demand that anyone make payments via MoneyGram, Western Union, Walmart-2-Walmart, or any other money wiring method, for any debt to the IRS or the Department of the Treasury,” J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, said in a statement.
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Such IRS scams have cost taxpayers more than $36 million in recent years, George said.
The five arrested are Cuban nationals from Miami: Jennifer Valerino Nuñez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Roberto Fontanella Caballero.
They were charged in Minnesota, Texas and Arkansas.
In the Arkansas case, someone purporting to be an IRA agent convinced a man on business trip in Texas to wire $3,720.30 to “Natalie Monroe” – supposedly, the “deputy secretary of the Treasury Department.” The money was sent to a Walmart in Lonoke, Arkansas.
Surveillance footage from the Walmart showed Nuñez picking up the money, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court. Agents found that she listed the same phone number on receipts while picking up money nearly 100 transactions. She used at least 21 different aliases, but al the receipts had the same handwriting, agents said.
Nuñez and Dennis Caballero also used the same black BMW to pick up the ill-gotten money, the complaint said.
Her fingerprint was found on one Moneygram receipt. And she also used her own personal debit card shortly after picking up one wire transfer – both transactions caught on surveillance video.
Nuñez, who arrived from Cuba in August 2015, was already engaged in the scam by October of that year, federal authorities say.