Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Alleged Disability Insurance Scammers Whose Frauds Got Caught on Camera

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April 25 2013 12:20 PM

Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Alleged Disability Insurance Scammers Whose Frauds Got Caught on Camera

One of the alleged disability insurance scammers caught by the Utah attorney general's office.
One of the alleged disability insurance scammers caught by the Utah Attorney General's Office


Crime: Defrauding Social Security.


Fatal mistake: Not committing to the bit.

The circumstances: Disability fraud is not a terribly hard crime to get away with. You claim you’ve been injured, get a shady doctor to sign off, and then you stick to the fakery. If you say you’ve hurt your back, remain recumbent! Don’t go climbing trees or fixing your roof in public. And certainly do not upload to YouTube a video that shows you half-naked and covered in tinfoil, doing “the robot” to the tune of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.”

The poor dope who did that was just one of the several alleged insurance fraudsters recently caught in the act by the Utah Attorney General’s Office and inspectors for the Social Security Administration. The department sent hidden camera teams out to film some people who had made claims, to see whether or not the claims were legitimate. Many were not.

One man, who had claimed crippling pain, was filmed driving a truck, carrying a baby seat, and then running away when approached by investigators. (“His truck and t-shirt indicated he had a business for buying antlers,” the AG’s press release noted.) Another woman, who claimed that various mental disorders made it very difficult for her to go out in public, had her benefits cut “after investigators found newspaper articles about her being ‘constantly involved in music projects,’ YouTube videos of her performances, Facebook posts about the venues she was playing and investigators witnessed her perform at a concert for several hundred people.”

The department also discovered that some of the alleged fraudsters had uploaded footage of themselves to YouTube engaging in activities that they shouldn’t have been able to perform. The weirdest example: the 40-year-old man who “had been collecting disability benefits for nearly 18 years because he said he was badly impaired by depression, anxiety, asthma, obesity and sore muscles that he was unable to leave his house.” His benefits ended after investigators discovered that, in addition toswinging on a swing set and riding a scooter,” he had posted a YouTube video in which he took off his shirt, fashioned himself a tinfoil hat and bustier, and did a herky-jerky dance to “Magic Carpet Ride.” In another video, he played air guitar.

How they could have been a lot smarter: A successful scam artist always stays in character, and should always assume that someone is watching. So find someone else to carry your baby seat, antler guy.

How they could have been a little smarter: The tinfoil guy could’ve covered himself by yelling “Ooh, my sore muscles! Ooh, this is making me even more anxious and depressed!” while he was rocking out to Steppenwolf.

How they could have been a little dumber: “Hey, that guy in the bushes has got a camera. Hey! Camera guy! Get a load of this stunt!” (Conspicuously lifts baby seat.)

How they could have been a lot dumber: “Not only do I sell antlers, but I also juggle them!”

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): As the old saying goes, discretion is the better part of successful disability fraud. I see so many of these types of stories, where people upload incriminating videos to the Internet and expect that nobody will ever see them. These people are always, always disappointed to learn that the Internet is not Tupperware. Stuff gets out, people! Incriminating odors will escape. 8 out of 10 for the alleged disability cheats.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.



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