Home D for $18,000 IRD fraud

By Imran Ali

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A Whangarei mother who, along with her partner, fraudulently obtained more than $18,000 from Inland Revenue through identity theft has been spared jail time.

Bobby Jo Opai, 30, hatched a plan with her partner to steal $18,250 between August and November in 2010 by filing and confirming personal tax summary returns in other people's names via IRD's website. She was sentenced in Whangarei District Court after pleading guilty to 17 charges of obtaining by deception. The charges, laid under the Crimes Act, carry a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment.

Among the 16 people she impersonated were a cousin and a girlfriend; Opai made tax refund claims in their names that were then transferred into bank accounts controlled by Opai and her co-offender, Metro Ah Sam. Her cousin said Opai asked for her details to apply for a student loan through StudyLink.

Ah Sam was convicted of 17 charges of obtaining by deception and sentenced to eight months' home detention in September 2014.

Opai and Ah Sam called the IRD's contact centre and impersonated other people whose accounts were then activated. Both then filed tax returns in the names of those whose identities they had stolen, and added their bank account details in tax return forms.

In one instance, Opai convinced a woman to provide her details by saying she could get the woman credit for her phone. Opai and Ah Sam received $10,794 in tax refunds for the woman, despite the woman not authorising them to file any tax returns.

Opai's lawyer, John Moroney, said home detention was the appropriate sentence.

Judge Murray Hunt said Opai reoffended soon after her release from prison in 2009 and dodged court hearings to do her level best to avoid conviction.

Judge Hunt said it was not surprising Opai could not find work because of her previous convictions for dishonesty. Her $5325 in outstanding fines for mainly traffic offences were remitted. The judge acknowledged that for at least six years, Opai had not got into trouble with the law.

He imposed a sentence of 10 months' home detention. Opai is on a final warning and will likely end up in jail if she commits a similar offence in the future.

- Northern Advocate

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