How carefully do you safeguard your identity? You might think you do a pretty good job of keeping an eye on your credit report. That may not be enough. Consider this scenario: imagine for a moment that you fall on some tough times. You apply for food stamps or maybe emergency aid through the state. It’s a good thing you have your Social Security card and birth certificate to verify your identity with the applicable government agencies. Except…that it isn’t. None of it is true. You live in another state, and someone has used your identity to steal public assistance benefits. It happens all the time, and that’s the subject of today’s Fraud of the Day from The Boston Globe.
The article reports that a Cambridge, Massachusetts man is accused of using the identity of another man to apply for a variety of social services benefits. Authorities say the defendant, who is charged with multiple counts of identity theft and making false statements under penalty of perjury and to falsely obtain medical assistance, received $65,000 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), medical assistance and state emergency aid since 2005. In addition, authorities say he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance three times since 1994 using the victim’s identity. The applications were not approved.
How do authorities claim he was able to perpetrate these frauds? For starters, investigators say he forged a copy of the victim’s birth certificate. They say he “received a replacement Social Security card in his victim’s name in 1994, a Massachusetts driver’s license in the victim’s name in 1996 and a Massachusetts ID card in the victim’s name in 2008.” (If true, he certainly knew how to navigate the government’s bureaucracy.) According to the article, the defendant “who said he was poor, was ineligible for the benefits himself because he had outstanding warrants for his arrest for unrelated crimes including larceny and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.” (Really!?!)
Authorities began looking into the case when the alleged victim, who lives out of state, contacted state agencies and the police to report that someone was using his identity to apply for loans and medical assistance. A summons was issued for the defendant to appear in court, but he was a no show. He was eventually arrested at a Social Security office. (No, I didn’t make that up.)
The defendant faces up to 20 years in prison on some of the charges, if convicted
It is important to note that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. He has been charged and deserves his day in court. The alleged facts of the case, however, offer a cautionary tale. The idea that someone could forge documents and request replacement IDs is pretty plausible. As individuals, we should watch for signs that our identities have been compromised. But, the data resides with the government. It is up to federal, state and local agencies that maintain and share that data to verify and authenticate the identities of individuals receiving government benefits. Doing so will cut down on identity and welfare fraud – and save victims the trouble of reclaiming their identities after the fact.