Throwing Her Weight Around

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Social Security cards with cash and benefit amount numbers

Fraudsters are brazen. They don’t mind throwing their weight around to get what they want. A Saint Pauls, N.C., woman used her job as an operations supervisor at the Fayetteville offices of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to steal $760,966 in Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) benefits she did not deserve.

It’s hard to find employees right now, much less trustworthy ones. (Stephanie Chavis is a classic case of someone who is not trustworthy.) The North Carolina woman took advantage of the SSI program, which provides monthly payments to qualified individuals who are 65 years or older, blind, or disabled, and who also meet income and resource criteria. (Obviously, she didn’t meet any of the criteria required.)

As an operations supervisor with the SSA, she had access to personal identifying information (PII) of SSA beneficiaries. For more than 7 ½ years, Chavis directed about $760,000 in SSI benefits to be electronically deposited into nine separate bank accounts in her name and in the names of family members. She made false representations to other SSA claims representatives and supervisors to carry out her ruse. (That’s where the “brazen” part came in. These other SSA employees probably trusted her in her official role with the government.) 

With a few strokes on the keyboard, Chavis queried 62 beneficiary accounts using her government-issued PIN number and used their PII to generate fraudulent payment requests. Some of the victims targeted were incarcerated or had been suspended or terminated from the program, which made them ineligible to receive SSI benefits. Chavez also targeted a few legitimate beneficiaries as well. (Unlucky for those folks.)

Chavez got around the SSA policy requirements regarding deposits by providing the beneficiary PII and account information to unsuspecting claims representatives. Again, she threw her weight around and asked them to create around 100 fraudulent payment requests. Once those requests were created, either Chavis approved them or asked other SSA employees to approve the requests. (And with a few clicks of a mouse, the stolen funds went directly to the nine bank accounts under her control. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.)

The SSA Office of the Inspector General put the brakes on this scam after the audit office put up a red flag. Chavis pleaded guilty to charges involving identity theft and Social Security fraud and admitted to using her official government position to steal $760,966 in Social Security benefits she did not deserve.

Chavis was sentenced to 65 months in prison, three years of supervised release for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, and is required to pay full restitution to the Social Security Administration. (Let’s hope we can trust her to make amends for her crimes, even though her track record is not so great.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Former Operations Supervisor at Social Security Administration Sentenced to Over 5 Years for Wire Fraud and Identity Theft,” dated October 4, 2021.

NEW BERN, N.C. – A Saint Pauls, North Carolina woman, Stephanie Chavis, was sentenced today to 65 months in prison and three years of supervised release for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Chavis was also ordered to pay $760,966 in restitution to the Social Security Administration.  On April 16, 2019, Chavis pled guilty to the charges.

According to court documents and other information presented in court, Chavis was an Operations Supervisor at the Fayetteville offices of the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSA administers monetary aid to the public through federally funded programs, including the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI), which authorizes monthly payments to qualifying individuals who are 65 years or older, blind, or disabled, and who meet certain income and resource criteria.

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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.