H&R; Block Employee Accused in ID Scam

From Associated Press

An office manager at tax-help firm H&R; Block Inc. used customers' names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth to steal their refund checks, withdraw cash from their bank accounts and spend thousands of dollars with fake credit cards, according to a federal complaint disclosed Thursday.

The two-year scam was punctuated with shopping sprees during which the employee and three accomplices used the credit cards at malls and picked up cash -- other people's cash -- from bank machines, prosecutors say.

According to the case complaint, filed in federal court in White Plains, the suspects allegedly used change-of-address cards and the taxpayers' personal information to divert victims' checks, credit card applications and other mail.

Ivy Johnson, LaTasha Edwards-Hamlett and Catherine Pointer, all of New Rochelle, N.Y., and Charles Griffin of Mount Vernon, N.Y., have been charged with mail fraud and other crimes.

Their alleged scheme began to unravel when postal inspector Richard Tracy found a common thread among 27 people who were affected by the phony changes of address: They all had been customers at the H&R; Block office in White Plains in 2000 and 2001, when Johnson worked there.

In a separate scheme, the group allegedly obtained a phony Connecticut identification card by using the name of an unsuspecting co-worker of Edwards-Hamlett. The card was used to open a bank account in White Plains to receive a fraudulent check for $5,080, the complaint said.

Johnson's lawyer did not return a call seeking comment. Griffin's and Edwards-Hamlett's lawyers refused to comment, and there was no phone listing for Pointer.

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