Coming Clean

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51517785 - padlock and social security card - identity theft and identity protection concept

Confessing involvement in a fraudulent scheme is really hard when an individual has been involved in the deception for many years. (Sometimes, as time goes by, perpetrators rationalize that they deserve the funds and the things they are stealing from their victim.)  It took today’s fraudster from Vallejo, California a long time to come clean about committing social security fraud. She used her mother to carry out a pretty simple crime that reaped nearly $300,000 in benefits she did not deserve.

It’s hard to know if today’s fraudster intended to steal from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to start with. It all began in 1986 when her mother began collecting legitimate social security benefits. Five years later, her daughter – today’s fraudster – began caring for her mother and was approved by the government to receive her benefit checks.

Over the next 24 years, the daughter collected her mother’s social security checks worth $298,168.20 and took care of her mother’s expenses. There’s just one problem, the mother died two years after the daughter began caring for her. (And, as you might surmise, she neglected to inform the government of her death.)

The daughter even kept up the ruse when she moved from Houston, Texas to California 10 years after her mother had passed. (She filled out a change of address form in her mother’s name and kept on receiving and cashing those checks.) In addition, she signed off on annual reports to the SSA regarding the expenses she managed, knowing that if she provided any false information, she’d get into trouble with the government. (Each year, the deception became normal for her.) When the SSA finally caught up with her, she originally denied having any part in the crime. But when pressed, she accepted responsibility.

Wondering how she spent that money? The government (and taxpayers) paid her American Express bill, made her car payments, bought airline tickets and hotel rooms, paid for shopping sprees on Amazon and at jewelry, department and grocery stores. This behavior was surprising for the mother of an adopted 35-year-old son who had just obtained her Ph.D. in psychology. (Perhaps she had a lot of book smarts, but not so great on common sense.)

After the 66-year-old Vallejo, California woman took responsibility for committing social security fraud, the judge sentenced her to 13 months in prison, even though she was facing up to 10 years. (He figured that since she did not have a criminal history, the likelihood of her committing another crime was slim.) She is required to start repaying the funds she stole while serving her sentence – $25 each quarter. (Uh, wait a minute – she’ll be long gone before the government collects what is owed.) While today’s fraudster was credited with coming clean, she could have done so much earlier. Now her criminal history has left a stain that will be hard to get out.

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Mom died in 1993, but her daughter kept cashing her Social Security checks for 24 years,” published by The Sacramento Bee on December 13, 2017.

Dorothy Griffin began collecting her Social Security benefits in 1986. By April 1991, her daughter, Emma Carter-Alexander, began to care for her and was approved by the government to receive her checks.

That arrangement continued until February 2017, with $298,168.20 paid out over the years to Carter-Alexander to take care of her mother’s expenses.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.