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Owner of 4 H&R Blocks Pleads Guilty to Identity Theft

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File this one under “People you think you can trust but actually can’t”: An owner of four H&R Block franchises in Virginia pleaded guilty to a felony count of aggravated identity theft, after she admitted to opening lines of credit for herself, using clients’ personal information.

Sherry R. Kelley, 41, faces a mandatory minimum of two years in prison, DelmarvaNow reports, and she will be sentenced in January 2015. Authorities started investigating Kelley after a customer felt unsettled by an interaction with her.

According to the DelmarvaNow report, Kelley urged the customer to open a line of credit through H&R Block, and after refusing Kelley’s suggestions, the customer had a suspicion something else was going on. The customer called H&R Block and confirmed an account had been opened in the customer’s name and in the name of the customer’s spouse.

Investigators alleged Kelley had used clients’ personal information to open lines of credit for her benefit, and she was later indicted on 20 counts of identity theft. After she pleaded guilty to one charge on Sept. 16, the remaining charges were dismissed.

Gene King, an H&R Block spokesperson, sent the following statement to Credit.com:

“H&R Block takes this matter seriously and cooperated with authorities in their investigation. At H&R Block, we value our clients’ privacy and have numerous policies and procedures in place to protect their information. We are disappointed those weren’t followed in this isolated case and have terminated our relationship with this person. Impacted clients, who are not held liable for the debt, were contacted and we worked directly with them to address their individual situations.”

She operated her H&R Block locations under the name Kelley Tax and Business Services.

Kelley’s is a common tale among people who take advantage of their access to sensitive information — caregivers, government employees, bank tellers and plenty of people in other positions have done similar things. It’s not that consumers can’t trust anyone; rather, people need to carefully watch their personal information and bank accounts for signs of identity theft.

Regularly looking at your credit reports increases your chances of quickly stopping identity theft. If you check your credit scores every month, you’ll be alerted to any damaging information like this, because scores are based on the data in your credit reports. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com and see updates every 30 days — if you see a drop of more than 25 points, it’s time to look at your credit reports to find out why.

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