A TAX office worker has been jailed for a £31,000 fraud.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) coordinator Karen Hindle used taxpayers’ personal details to plunder their bank accounts of thousands of pounds, Southampton Crown Court heard.

She was arrested after an internal investigation was launched into suspicious transactions after the victims had paid outstanding balances on VAT and income tax.

It later emerged that she had also claimed almost £4,000 in benefits she was not entitled to and had made a false application for a £15,000 loan from Sainsbury’s Bank.

Prosecutor Gareth Munday said Hindle, 43, began working for the department’s debt management and banking division in Southampton in 2003, and her role led her to pursuing tax debts and returns, which in turn brought her into direct contact with taxpayers over the phone.

When officers swooped on her home, Hindle tried to pass herself off as her sister, saying she was away in Devon looking after their sick mother. It was not until they confronted her partner that she gave up the charade.

A search of her home then revealed bank card details of more than 50 taxpayers written on HMRC post-it notes.

Mr Munday said: “Essentially what she did was to note the debit card details for the information which she had to pursue. In a flagrant breach of trust, she would keep those details and take them home.”

Officers found she had made 67 dishonest transactions, making direct payments for companies, largely over the Internet, for sums ranging from £31 to £412. In total she had made payments or attempted to make payments totalling more than £12,300.

Hindle, of Woodlands Gardens, Romsey, admitted fraud through the abuse of her position, failing to notify a change of circumstance which enabled her to net almost £4,000 in benefits, and making a false application for a £15,000 loan from Sainsbury’s Bank by using her sister’s name. That, said Mr Munday, was unsuccessful.

In mitigation, Zoe Vanden Bosch urged Judge Peter Ralls QC as an act of mercy to either suspend a prison sentence or defer it because of the potential impact it would have on her teenage daughter for whom she had sole care. Her husband had gone, leaving her to pay the mortgage.

But jailing her for 12 months, the judge said she was in a position where it was vitally important for the public to expect trust, no matter her personal circumstances.

“Only an immediate custodial sentence is appropriate,” he said.