Tax office worker is jailed for two years after £90,000 identity fraud

A TAX office worker who hijacked another woman's identity and invented four children to fraudulently claim more than £90,000 in benefits has been jailed for two years.

Emily Barrass was employed as a call centre adviser at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs offices in Dundee in March 2004.

Around a year later she began to intercept mail belonging to Susan Lindsay after moving into her former address in Arbroath.

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Miss Lindsay, who was unknown to Barrass, had a live claim for tax credits which were being paid into her bank account. She told HMRC that she was emigrating to the US, but payments continued to be made.

Barrass then amended Miss Lindsay's file to claim a higher rate of child tax credit - then changed her bank details twice.

Barrass also updated the telephone contact history on Miss Lindsay's file to indicate she had processed a call from her and removed the bank account details.

That generated a letter, sent to Miss Lindsay's old address - where Barrass was now living - inviting her to open a post office account for payments to be made into. Barrass opened an account in Miss Lindsay's name to access the tax credit funds.

Over a three-year period, Barrass updated the account to claim Miss Lindsay informed her three children had been born.

None of them existed - but they were added to the claim, increasing the payment amounts. In 2009 suspicions were raised over Miss Lindsay's account and Barrass's involvement and an investigation was launched.

Fiscal depute Vicki Bell told Dundee Sheriff Court that Barrass's fraud on Miss Lindsay's account amounted to 77,401.

In 2009 Barrass had also accessed the tax credit account of the former partner of a relative and amended the account to make payments into Miss Lindsay's post office account.

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She then added a fourth fictional child to the claim. That fraud ran in to May 2010 - leading to Barrass obtaining 15,493 over a 15-month period.

The court was told the total amount received was 92,589.

Barrass, 39, of Lingard Street, Carnoustie, Angus, pled guilty to two charges of repeatedly accessing and amending tax credit claims in the name of two women, fraudulently claiming 92,859 between 2005 and 2009.

Defence lawyer Joseph Myles said the fraud had started because Barrass, who now works as a slimming consultant, was struggling with household bills.

He said: "She moved into this address in 2005 where the previous occupant co-incidentally was in receipt of child tax credit and working tax credit. The woman left the country but cheques continued to be received.

"My client returned the first two or three but they continued to arrive and one day she foolishly cashed one of them needing to pay the bills. That ended in her accessing Susan Lindsay's account and making alterations."Sheriff Alistair Duff jailed Barrass for two years and said she had committed "very serious offences". He added: "You obtained a total of more than 90,000 and only a custodial sentence is appropriate. You were short of money with a number of children and times would be difficult, as they are for most people. However, most people don't resort to dishonesty."

Ian Horridge, senior manager in internal governance for HMRC, said: "Barrass took advantage of her position for personal gain, and like anyone who attempts to steal from public funds, has paid the price for her dishonesty."

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