Identity theft affects millions of Americans every year, and the Social Security number (SSN) is a key for thieves to unlock many forms of identity fraud.
The OIG receives fraud referrals alleging various forms of identity theft and SSN misuse. OIG carefully reviews every fraud allegation we receive, and we make every effort to pursue cases of identity theft and SSN misuse involving Social Security program fraud.
As the following examples show, some cases of SSN misuse and assumed identities can read like crime-fiction stories.
Ripped from the Headlines
For almost 20 years, a Texas woman used another woman’s identity to collect more than $385,000 in government benefits, including Social Security disability, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare and Medicaid, and food stamps.
In the late 1980s, Jerrie Mona Chesney read in a local newspaper about the death of a woman from southeast Texas. She contacted the woman’s family and obtained her personal identification information by deceiving the family into believing she was an old high school friend. She also obtained personal information about the deceased woman from the funeral home that handled the woman’s burial. With the identifying information, Chesney obtained a Texas Driver’s License and a Social Security card under the deceased woman’s name and filed for benefits under the assumed identity.
In December 2015, a Federal grand jury charged Chesney with government theft and identity theft. In July, she pleaded guilty to the scheme, and she is awaiting sentencing.
Stolen Sibling Identities
An Ohio woman—who was a fugitive living in Queens, New York—stole the identities of two of her deceased siblings, and she filed fraudulent benefit applications under their identities. Nazimova Varick collected over $164,000 in Social Security benefits through both identities for 10 years.
OIG special agents worked with the Federal Protective Services and detectives from the New York Police Department assigned to the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Taskforce to locate Varick in Queens, and transport her to Ohio in June.
Varick pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated theft, tampering with records, identity fraud, and forgery. In August, a judge sentenced her to four years in prison and ordered her to repay $164,482 to SSA.
The Invisible Twin
For more than 20 years, a Washington man collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits from SSA, the Washington Department of Social Services and Health Services (DSHS), and the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA). Pretending to be two completely separate people, Travis Edward Fischer claimed benefits under the name “Edward Travis Fischer.”
While fraudulently collecting Social Security benefits, and food and medical assistance from the Washington DSHS, he defrauded SHA by using the false identity to claim a low-income unit in a Seattle neighborhood while living elsewhere with his girlfriend and three children. From 1990 to 2013, Fischer used the low-income residence as a home address for his second identity, separate bank accounts, and benefits under the “Edward Travis Fischer” name.
A DSHS case manager first suspected the fraud after finding both names in a database in 2011. When confronted by authorities, Fischer first said he was the victim of identity theft. He changed his story, and then falsely claimed he had a twin brother who was also collecting benefits.
Ultimately, a jury convicted Fischer of mail fraud, government theft, Social Security fraud, SSN misuse, and false statements. In June, a judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison and ordered him to repay more than $466,000 to SSA, the SHA, and the Washington DSHS.
If you suspect someone is misusing SSNs or fraudulently receiving Social Security benefits, you can submit a fraud report to the OIG at oig.ssa.gov/report.
You can report all other cases of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov.