Social Security employee Anne Aroste has been arrested and charged with fraud, after funneling illegitimate benefits into her own bank account.
Aroste’s plan was as simple as it was innovative: First, she fabricated spouses for deceased Social Security recipients. Then she made claims that they were still alive, and thus entitled to survivor’s benefits. Finally, she used her position to approve the claims herself, and directed the money to her own account.
The money Aroste stole will be added to the ever-growing sum of money that has been wrongly paid by Social Security. Already, over $6 million has been incorrectly paid out—deliberately or otherwise—in 2018 alone. Social Security employees routinely find people claiming benefits on behalf of deceased relatives.
But even the millions being spent on a small number of false claims are a relatively small drop in a very large bucket. According to a “fact sheet” released last year by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “All improper payments, including payments to the deceased and the very old, are estimated at about $3 billion per year.” Unfortunately, “total Social Security benefits in 2016 will exceed $900 billion, so eliminating $3 billion per year of improper payments would reduce costs by at most 0.4 percent, extending the program’s solvency by about 3 months.”
Aroste has pled “not guilty” to the five counts of aggravated identity theft, and five counts of wire fraud for which she has been indicted. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years for the first set of charges, and up to 100 for the second.