Straightforward with a Twist

35905365 - computer hacker stealing data from a laptop concept for network security, identity theft and computer crime

Sometimes investigations into fraud start out in a straightforward manner with a predicted prosecution and conviction in sight. But, today’s fraud article is a little different. It details the story of a very deceptive man from Mexico who used the stolen identity of a U.S. citizen to commit Social Security fraud over nearly four decades. What seemed like a simple investigation in the beginning turned into an extensive investigation of a sophisticated fraud scheme that took a variety of twists and turns before the real culprit was caught and convicted. Before all was said and done, the fraudster stole more than $361,000 from multiple government benefit programs.

The culprit was from Tijuana, Mexico, but his fake birth certificate said he was born Abraham Riojos in Alpine, Texas in 1958. With this bogus document, he was able to apply for a Social Security number, California driver’s license, and a U.S. Passport. He moved freely across the Mexico-United States border for many years, all the while collecting nearly $361,000 in government benefits he did not deserve.

The investigation into this interesting case began in 2015 during a standard review to confirm Social Security benefit eligibility. The man who assumed the identity of Mr. Riojos was asked to provide an address where he lived. At that time, he presented a state ID card that confirmed his identity and claimed he rented a room in Chula Vista, California. (Important fact: he received his mail at a mailbox rental facility near the Mexico border. Private mailboxes located near the U.S. – Mexico border have been known to be used to commit residency fraud.)

The interviewer called the interviewee’s alleged landlord during the meeting and confirmed he resided in the home. But, two years later when investigators visited the home, the alleged landlord fessed up and admitted that Mr. Riojos had never lived there. That’s because he actually lived in Mexico. (You may need some anti-nausea medication to get you through all the twists and turns that come next.)

Investigators acted on the alleged landlord’s lead and checked out border crossing records to see the comings and goings of the man in question. Frequent border crossings showed that the fraudster had lived in Mexico since 2014. (Another important fact: only U.S. citizens or valid visa holders can receive Social Security disability benefits and must reside within the U.S. to do so.)

Around the same time, investigators learned that another person had applied for disability benefits in Oceanside under the same name, using a fake birth certificate with the same date and place of birth. Criminal records showed that the initial man claiming to be Mr. Riojos had quite the rap sheet including the use of 21 names, six dates of birth, and convictions for firearms violations, forgery, cocaine possession and multiple DUIs. (Not to mention two deportations along the way.)

So, investigators went on the hunt for the real Abraham Riojos and they found him living near Fort Myers, Florida. (Unfortunately, he was unaware that his identity had been used for more than 37 years.) To complicate the matter, the real Mr. Riojos had changed his name from Abraham to Abram in the 1980s and he possessed a legal Social Security number different from the fraudulent one used by the fraudster. (This crime went undetected for so long because there had not been any cross-identity issues and the real Mr. Riojos had not applied for any Social Security benefits yet.)

The twists and turns of the road to fraud came to an abrupt end for the fake Mr. Riojos when he was arrested while crossing the Mexico – U.S. border at San Ysidro port of Entry. The 66-year-old man pleaded guilty to theft of public property and to being a previously removed unauthorized immigrant in the U.S. By assuming the identity of the real Mr. Riojos in 1980, he committed identity theft, Social Security fraud, Medicaid fraud and food stamp fraud.

Most likely, today’s fraudster got away with the nearly four-decade crime because he began the sophisticated scheme in the 1980s during the analogue era when there were no computers and identity theft was harder to detect. (Ironically, when this fraudster is sentenced, he’ll be crossing that Mexico – U.S. border one more time, but it’s doubtful he’ll ever be able to return.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Mexican man assumes American’s identity for 37 years, steals $361,000 in government benefits,” published by The San Diego Union Tribune on March 3, 2018.

It started as a rather straightforward Social Security fraud investigation — a man receiving disability benefits pretending to live in the United States when in fact he lived in Tijuana.

What authorities uncovered was a 37-year identity theft scheme by an unauthorized immigrant and repeat felon who bilked federal, state and local governments out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits, according to a plea agreement entered in San Diego federal court this week.

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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.