The death of a parent is always hard to accept – mustering the strength to move past the event often takes time.  For one Virginia woman, it took nearly 14 years for her to “accept” her mother had passed. Though it might have gone on much longer, had officials not caught on to her fraudulent ways.

Government officials recently knocked on the door of the Hampton Roads resident’s home, looking to speak with her mother.  The resident claimed her mother had gone out to see friends, and wouldn’t be back for a while.  Officials say this must have been a long visit to see friends, as they discovered the mother had died in 1996. (Ok. In 1996 she told me she was going to a friend’s house; I thought she was still there.) The daughter, with power of attorney over her mother, refused to close the bank accounts, allowing Social Security benefits to continue to stream in.  When asked, she revealed to investigators that she used the money to cover living expenses.  Officials were able to register the loss at nearly $204,000. (If you do the math that’s around $1,000 of living expenses per month.)

Prior to sentencing, the judge revealed this was the third case of this stature that he had seen the past two years.  The judge even asked the assistant U.S. Attorney if there was a simple check on beneficiaries that could be done to prevent such fraud – the response, “I don’t know.” (Yes, there is! They can leverage public records databases to check for the deceased and a lot more.) An agent within the investigation revealed that the fraudster was caught because of an investigative project that is checking on any beneficiary over the age of 100. Having done the math, the fraudster’s mother would have been 104, when the investigators came looking for her.  (Ok, so they are a few years late.) The Virginia woman is ordered to serve a year and four months in jail, as well as pay restitution in the amount of $75/month after her release from jail.

The extent to which people cover a death to collect benefits is astonishing.  It can range from neglect to closing bank accounts or burying your own family member. And while this woman thought her mother’s fictitious date with a friend may have fooled investigators – it was clear to all that mommy hadn’t come home in a long time.

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