January-17-24-2013Hucksters target local churches, seniors with promises of stimulus money.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently issued a warning to avoid using Syam Tax Services pending his department’s investigation of this business for a tax fraud scheme. Court documents now reveal how Syam used recruiters to canvass churches and senior centers throughout East Texas in order to swindle elderly Social Security and disability recipients.

     By falsely claiming that low-income Social Security recipients were eligible for something they called “free stimulus money” and “social security stimulus” these con artists bilked their victims after convincing them

to provide such sensitive personal information as birth dates, Social Security and bank account numbers, and drivers’ licenses. Then the swindlers pressured victims into signing a form in order to receive their so-called “stimulus.” These recruiters then turned this data over to Syam to prepare before filing fraudulent tax returns, telling victims they were thus eligible for $1000 and more tax credits.

     Syam profited through this scheme by having the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) deposit about half of this sum into its own bank account, while the remaining, partial amount went to the victim.

     There is actually no such thing as a federal stimulus benefit payment program for low-income Social Security recipients. This means that the IRS would hold the victim (not Syam) accountable for repaying the whole amount, penalties and interest. This is when the victims first became aware of having been cheated because Syam never informed them that it was either filing a tax return for them or retaining part of the resultant refund. This means that the low-income families scammed by Syam cannot repay the amount for which the IRS now holds them responsible. Because Syam now possesses its victims’ personal information there is the threat of additional identity theft. Investigators suspect Syam filed literally hundreds of bogus tax returns, and may use the stolen information for years in order to file more claims. The attorney general’s office successfully sought a temporary injunction and asset freeze in hopes of ceasing Syam’s dishonest activities.

     The firm is being charged with multiple violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and of the Texas Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act. Abbott has already charged Syam and two of its officers, Shannon Mays and Marshrief Shead, with fraudulently acquiring sensitive personal information and with filing falsified federal income tax returns on their victims’ behalf. Judge Michael Gomez of the 129th District Court in Harris County has frozen Syam’s assets and issued a temporary restraining order against all the named defendants.

     “Targeting senior centers and churches, Syam Tax Services launched an apparently well-orchestrated scheme to defraud the elderly,

and even worse, those who rely on federal benefits for their well-being,” said Abbott. “My office is working to put a stop to this despicable fraud, and thanks to the court order we obtained, Syam is prohibited from continuing to violate the law. We first informed Texans of this scam in December, and are now moving swiftly to shut down Syam’s deceptive operation and prevent other seniors from becoming victims of this scam.”

By Kelly Bell