Data are facts and statistics collected for reference or analysis. Data, delivered for good, have powerful opportunities to prevent, among other things, government fraud. It’s a sad fact that government fraud has spiked during the pandemic and fraudsters are taking advantage of a public health crisis to prey on people that need help. Consider just one case in New York State in September 2021.
Latonja Serling, 57, of Calera, Alabama, pleaded guilty in New York City Criminal Court to Welfare Fraud. Serling collected nearly $70,000 in welfare benefits in New York State by misreporting her residency, employment, and marriage status and using two different Social Security numbers. She also misrepresented her residence to obtain New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) rental benefits in excess of $50,000.
From a tip, authorities were able to identify, arrest, and prosecute Serling by using a variety of public and private data, including real estate and employment records, use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, bank records, and Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn account postings. The investigation determined that from November 2012 to 2021, Serling misrepresented her residence as 218 West 112th Street in New York City when she resided in either Birmingham or Calera, Alabama. The Office of the Welfare Inspector General (OWIG) also determined that Serling failed to report her employment income, her marriage, and the income of her spouse – all of which she was required to report to the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA). The investigation also found that Serling used two different Social Security numbers and she misrepresented her residence to obtain $52,646 in rental benefits through a NYCHA program.
Serling’s fraud amounted to $120,000. Data access, use, and sharing were able to track Serling down and bring her to justice. What does $120,000 buy? In New York City, that covers the salary for four EMTs, or two public school teachers, or nearly three police officers. Data matters and it’s delivered for good.
Source: Press release, Alabama Woman Who Pretended to Live in NYC Pleads Guilty to Stealing More Than $120k in Welfare & Housing Benefits, N.Y. State Offices of the Inspector General, Sept. 14, 2021.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More