Federal authorities arrested and charged a Social Security employee Monday with a massive fraud, accusing her of using dead people’s identities to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bogus benefits she then pocketed.
Anne Aroste filed applications creating spouses for the dead people, claiming the spouses were still alive and deserving of survivor’s benefits. She then used her Social Security credential to approve them herself, routing the payments to her own bank accounts, the Justice Department said.
Over five years, she pocketed at least $680,000 in fraudulent payments, according to a lengthy 10-count indictment.
Ms. Aroste, who worked at Social Security’s Aurora office, would take people and falsely claim in Social Security’s records that they were U.S. citizens who were at some point married to the dead people she’d already identified.
She then ruled they were eligible for benefits as survivors of a deceased worker.
Social Security didn’t respond to a request for comment on the scam or what steps are being taken to prevent a repeat.
Ms. Aroste entered a plea of “not guilty.”
The agency has repeatedly been dinged for paying money to dead people — some $6 million this year alone to 678 people confirmed dead but still on the rolls, according to an inspector general’s report last month.
And Social Security investigators regularly nab people who are cashing their relatives benefits for years after they die.
But the scam to invent survivors for dead people is a novel twist.
Ms. Aroste was charged with five separate instances of falsifying Social Security records, and then another five counts of wire fraud related to the payments made in each of those cases.
The identity theft charges carry a penalty of up to two years in prison each, while wire fraud can earn up to 20 years per conviction.