NORWICH – With nearly 300 referrals of fraud activity received this year – nine of which have been referred to police and the district attorney, and 15 leading to pending arrests – the Chenango County investigations unit at the Department of Social Services is on its toes.
The fraud unit's tasked with investigating claims of fraud county-wide. Referrals are drawn from outlets including DSS staff, law enforcement, state and federal agencies, and concerned local citizens.
Year to date, fraud investigators have carried out a total 310 investigations, most of which relate to fraud activity in safety net programs – cash and food assistance. Investigators thus far have looked at 180 safety net case referrals in 2019; 42 of those have led to applications denied or withdrawn.
Fraud unit workers say they commonly find issues in falsified documents, applicants working for under-the-table pay or are self-employed, or people with income who moved into the applicant's household but weren't claimed on the application.
“Right now, one of the biggest challenges for us as far as fraud is people working under the table,” explained Patty Hodge, principle social welfare examiner at the Chenango County DSS. “A lot of it is in SNAP and food stamp programs. We also see a lot self-employment where people aren't claiming to be self-employed. You see a lot of people on the internet selling a lot of things. They're doing something to get by, but not reporting it.”
Numbers year to date are on track with recent years, according to investigators. In 2018, the unit's front end detection system (a preventative measure to assure an applicant is eligible for benefits) fielded 404 investigations. Of those, 103 cases were referred for investigation for SNAP (21 of which resulted in positive findings) and 19 for other safety net programs (only two of which resulted in positive findings).
In all, the department saved taxpayers nearly $194,000 in fraudulent claims last year. Unit workers say numbers are comparative this year but won't know for sure until the state converts case numbers to dollars at the end of the year.
But Hodge pointed out that not every referral is intentional fraud, and some might not be fraud at all...