ATLANTA - Three local women are accused of running a $2 million tax fraud operation using the popular website Ancestry.com to find confidential information.
“The tax returns contained false and fraudulent information, including false income amounts and dependent information. The individuals whose names were used on these tax returns often were deceased,” according to the criminal indictment filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The IRS sent the refunds to the address associated with the defendants
“I am really horrified to learn on Ancestry.com you can find people’s Social Security numbers on a death certificate. It just seems like it is so easy for them to get access to this information,” said Buffie Purselle, a tax expert.
“The IRS is working with a third of their typical work force and they just don’t have the resources to go after these fraudulent tax filings,” Purselle said.
Arrest warrants have been issued for Shawuana Sanders, Monica Person and Tania Zelada.
David Burton, a cyber-security expert, said it is remarkably easy to find Social Security numbers on the website.
“I basically searched Ancestry.com and said show me images of death certificates,” Barton said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for ancestry.com said:
“As there is some sensitivity around this record collection, we have made a purposeful decision to not display Social Security numbers of any person that has passed away in the last 10 years.
“We, as well as other genealogical websites, provide members with access to the Social Security Death Index as it is a key record collection to help further family history research and
provides unique information about specific ancestors.
“Additionally, we have placed the Social Security Death Index behind our paid wall to ensure that only dedicated family history researchers who have paid for an Ancestry.com subscription can access this information."