The Justice Department has filed a “John Doe” summons with a federal court seeking the credit card records of U.S. merchants hiding money in offshore bank accounts.

The DOJ asked a Denver federal court to approve the summons on one of the nation’s largest payment card processors, First Data Corp. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn approved the request Wednesday. The Internal Revenue Service claims that First Data active marketed and sold the offshore services to U.S. merchants and their financial advisors to help them hide the proceeds of both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales in offshore bank accounts.

"John Doe" summonses allow the IRS to obtain information about U.S. taxpayers whose identities are not yet known. The information expected in response to the summons will be used by the IRS to identify merchants who use offshore accounts to evade their U.S. tax liabilities.

The petition alleges that the merchants have opened bank accounts in offshore jurisdictions and directed their payment card processor, in this instance First Data, to deposit the proceeds from their debit or credit card transactions directly into the offshore accounts.

The courts have previously approved numerous John Doe summonses on credit card companies and third-party credit card processors, allowing the IRS to identify individuals who were using debit and credit cards issued by offshore banks to evade their taxes. The IRS is also using John Doe summonses to get information on tens of thousands of customers of Swiss bank UBS.

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