Trust, But Verify

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How well do you know your neighbors? Would you entrust them to look after your house, pets or bring in the mail while you are on vacation? Would you give them a key to your domain and feel confident that they would have your best interests at heart? A Salinas, California woman took advantage of a neighbor’s request to forward important documents after the neighbor’s deportation. She took advantage of the situation and used those documents to commit food stamp fraud.

The deported woman asked her neighbor, today’s fraudster, to forward some important documents to her regarding her children. (Such as birth certificates and social security cards.)

While the neighbor honored the deported woman’s request to forward these important documents, they were eventually returned as undelivered. Two years after receipt of the undelivered documents, the neighbor fraudulently used the documents to apply for food stamps. (I’m guessing she claimed her neighbor’s children as her own to increase the amount of benefits she could receive. She probably thought no one would notice, especially the neighbor who had been deported.)

Over approximately three months, the deceitful neighbor defrauded the Monterey County Department of Social Services of $3,811 by using the personal documents of the deported woman’s children. (However, the father of the children figured out they were enrolled in the food stamp program.)

The 44-year-old Californian pleaded guilty to felony welfare fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced. She will most likely receive a sentence of supervised probation and will have to pay full restitution in the amount of food stamp benefits she stole from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This food stamp fraud case is a prime example of why you should “trust, but verify” before handing over the keys to your kingdom. Even though this criminal stole benefits under $4,000, the government takes this type of crime seriously. (A little fraud here and a little fraud there adds up to a lot.) She betrayed the trust of her neighbor and took advantage of a system that is set up to take care of vulnerable people who need to put food on their table. (Perhaps she should also be banned from the SNAP program until she can be verified as trustworthy.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on a press release entitled, Salinas woman guilty of welfare fraud,” published by The Californian on September 13, 2017.

A Salinas woman defrauded $3,811 from the Monterey County Department of Social Services by using personal documents of a neighbor who was deported.

In 2013, a neighbor of Juana Zaragosa, 44, was deported, and Zaragosa agreed to forward important documents, such as birth certificates and social security cards belonging to the neighbor’s two children, to the woman, according to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.