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A St Louis man has been sentenced to four years behind bars for his part in a major identity fraud campaign in which a group claimed over $12m in tax refunds.

Babatunde Olusegun Taiwo will spend 48 months in prison plus three years of supervised release and will pay restitution of $889,712, according to the Department of Justice (DoJ).

That amounts to the total the IRS paid out in tax refunds to Taiwo and his co-conspirators after they filed over 2000 fraudulent returns, the DoJ said.

They apparently used personally identifiable information (PII) obtained from a breach at a payroll company to file returns on behalf of hundreds of school district employees in Alabama and Mississippi.

In a bid to try and conceal the fraud, they stole and used “electronic filing identification numbers” from businesses that help their clients with tax returns. However, they directed the IRS to send refunds to their homes in St Louis, which is likely to have raised internal red flags.

“Today’s sentencing of Babtunde Taiwo highlights how seriously IRS Criminal Investigation and our law enforcement partners take the issue of identity theft,” said Thomas Holloman, special agent in charge, of the Atlanta IRS Criminal Investigation field office.

“We will continue to pursue criminals who prey on innocent victims and we will continue to enforce our nation’s tax laws. Today’s sentencings should send a clear message to would-be criminals — you will be caught and you will be punished.”

Co-conspirator Kevin Williams has already been sentenced to 78 months behind bars for his role in the scheme, as well as voter fraud and re-entering the US after having been removed.

The IRS, and the UK’s HMRC, are frequently targeted by scammers impersonating legitimate taxpayers, and are often themselves spoofed in phishing emails sent to victims.

The “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams circulated by the IRS last year highlighted the most popular tricks used by fraudsters, but the tax office warned that such “aggressive” schemes are constantly evolving.

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