Series looking at benefit fraud. An imposter steals an innocent woman's identity and lands herself a job as a nurse, helping her to defraud the NHS out of 270,000 pounds.
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Welcome to Saints and Scroungers,
the show that exposes benefit thieves, cheats and liars,
but it does also unearth the people that genuinely need help.
This is the front line in the battle against benefit fraud.
Saints And Scroungers is all about busting benefit thieves who steal millions every year,
and it's about the crack teams of investigators determined to scupper their devious scams.
We also shine a light on the saints,
people committed to putting money into the pockets of those
who deserve it and the people too proud or simply don't know how to claim
what is rightfully theirs.
And coming up on today's programme...
An imposter steals an innocent woman's identity and lands herself a job as a nurse.
It's just a really unsettling feeling to have somebody kind of, being you.
And parent power, the saintly mums who help each other cope with their children's disability.
You call their name and they don't even look round.
You give them a kiss and it makes them cry.
The impact of identity fraud is massive and it can take years
to sort out the mess it makes of people's lives.
Sadly, the victims don't know about it until it's too late
and the damage has already been done.
Identity theft can strike anyone at any time and the perpetrators can be the most unlikely people.
Meet nurse, Kate McDowell-Foord.
Originally from Ghana, Kate worked for the NHS for seven years.
She was given a £40,000 bursary to fund a university degree course,
so she could move up from the position of health care worker, to staff nurse.
And according to reports, she was good at her job,
even appearing on the front cover of a health trust magazine.
But that smile hid a sinister secret.
She was in fact, an imposter.
Kate McDowell-Foord was operating
under a stolen identity and had defrauded the NHS out of £270,000.
Theft of NHS money is a serious problem.
So much so, they have their own dedicated counter-fraud department,
headed up by Kevin Cane.
Being the UK's largest employer,
and of course a lot of your staff coming from abroad as well,
you must have a problem with identity fraud.
It's an issue that we've discovered more and more in recent years.
Obviously with the recent Immigration Act coming in in 2008,
the NHS like any other employers
are actually compelled to make more checks on all their employees now.
This naturally leads to the identification of problems
which then get referred to counter-fraud to deal with.
Because of the nature of your line of work
and that a lot of people are coming in with credentials
and qualifications from abroad, it must be an absolute nightmare.
Identity fraud in the UK is a recognised problem across the board.
NHS is no exception. We have to deal with these because
we've got illegal workers working for us and we can't tolerate that.
Tell me about the lady that you thought was Kate McDowell-Foord.
She was a trusted employee, there was no complaints about her work.
On the face of it, to those she was working with, she appeared honest,
but they didn't know she'd been acting in a dishonest fashion,
deceiving them for seven years.
And it's possible she would've continued to go undetected
if it wasn't for a tip-off to the NHS fraud squad.
In August 2009, counter-fraud specialist Peter Gorman
received a phone call
that was to prove the starting point of a massive investigation.
On the end of the phone was Kate McDowell-Foord,
except this lady was not the smiling Ghanaian nurse.
It was a very worried British woman, who at the time was living in Dubai.
She was convinced the nurse had stolen her identity.
You see, her kids had punched her unusual name
into the internet to see if they could find their mum,
and a very different woman popped up on screen.
My children showed me the photo of Kate McDowell-Foord
and it was a very smiling black lady with her colleagues
and it said Kate McDowell-Foord has worked in mental health for
whatever borough it was of London for X years and is part of the team.
I knew when I saw this other person with my name
that it was completely impossible.
Hang on a second, am I missing something here?
Let's be honest, we've all put our names on the internet to see what comes up and usually,
it's a load of different people with the same name as us, so it's not exactly breaking news.
And even the fraud investigator initially didn't think there was much to go on.
At that particular time, there was no real evidence to say there was a problem.
It was just probably her hunch.
Kate was adamant it was more than just a hunch,
but why was she so convinced her identity had been stolen?
My maiden name is McDowell and I married
James Foord, with a double-O in Foord
and that's completely unusual. We officially created McDowell-Foord through a legal route
and everything, hyphenated it, much like an old tradition, just combined our names, really.
Therefore that was a completely one-off name.
The likelihood that the name was unique
promoted Peter to check the file of the NHS employee.
A simple process of verifying the data we held on personnel files
could establish if everything was correct.
On the personnel file, other than the normal, historic appraisals
and other documents, there is a copy of the employee's passport.
This is the copy of the passport in the name of McDowell-Foord,
along with a copy of the National Insurance card
with the name of McDowell-Foord and her number.
It appeared to be a valid British passport and significantly,
the date of birth was different to that of the Kate who'd phoned in.
It seemed the nurse could in fact be who she said she was.
But for Kate, the seed of suspicion had been planted five years earlier,
when a strange mix-up happened regarding her medical notes.
I went to my doctor as one does and he said,
"Why are you trying to switch boroughs?
"It's becoming quite frustrating for them."
Um, and I said, "Well, I'm not," and I thought...
At the time, Kate was registered with a GP in south London,
but a surgery in west London was repeatedly requesting the transfer
of her medical notes for one of their patients,
who was trying to register as Kate McDowell-Foord.
But at the time, the notion of identity theft was furthest from her mind.
Just didn't cross my mind that that would be the situation.
I thought my doctor was getting his papers muddled and somebody was getting very muddled.
Frustrated at what Kate perceived to be an admin error,
she took matters into her own hands.
I decided then to phone the actual borough he was mentioning, just to see what was what.
By chance, she was actually there at the desk.
By an incredible twist of fate, the doctor in west London
was in a surgery, sitting directly opposite Kate McDowell-Foord.
The other Kate demanded more information
about this woman and she immediately hit a brick wall.
Due to data protection, I couldn't do anything, I had no rights, nothing.
Well, that's rather disturbing...
But it was noted by both surgeries the two women, although sharing identical names,
had different dates of birth
and then there was the issue of their different ethnicity.
The fact that one Ms McDowell-Foord is a white lady
and the fact that one McDowell-Foord was a black lady
and the discrepancy in the dates of birth,
it was deemed then that there wasn't any
falseness or fraud at that stage
and everyone just carried on as it was then.
Kate was disturbed by the bizarre coincidence,
but her priority at the time was a big family move to another country.
Then, I think I dropped the whole thing and I moved to the Middle East
and I thought it was obviously going to be a very cumbersome thing,
which could conspire against me, you know, trying to solve anything, so I just let it go.
But five years later and fired up by the website hit on the smiling nurse,
Kate was determined to get to the truth, so she told the NHS investigator
about the medical records mix-up that had happened a few years before.
Ms McDowell-Foord pointed out that her medical records had been
transferred to someone in west London,
where her name was used.
So, Peter agreed to dig a bit deeper.
He turned his attention back to nurse McDowell-Foord's passport and he made a crucial discovery.
Inquiries with the British passport UKBA established that in fact it was
a passport that was reported missing,
when it was dispatched in December 2000.
Kate confirmed that some years ago, she had indeed reported a passport missing in the post.
I applied for a passport under my married name and it never turned up.
I got a second one sent to me, a replacement, and carried on.
It may not have raised alarm bells at the time for Kate,
but for Peter Gorman, this was a massive red flag.
My suspicions now clearly raised that the documents held on file to this
person's identity were not correct and warranted further investigation.
Years of experience in fraud told him that passports
are one of the identity thieves' favourite documents.
And hearing that one of Kate's had gone missing now sparked a full-scale investigation.
And finally, Kate got the news she'd been hoping for.
I contacted Ms Kate McDowell-Foord in Dubai,
where she resided and pointed out that the information that she'd given
had led to this part of the investigation to moving on and now a formal investigation
was being undertaken by our department into the identity
of this lady working in a position of trust within the NHS
and how the circumstances had come about.
Peter's next stop was to get back in touch with the investigation
department of the Passport Office to see if he could find out more.
They confirmed that the passport had gone missing,
had been issued to a white lady of the name Kate McDowell-Foord
and that it carried the same passport number as Nurse McDowell's passport held on file.
If it bore the picture of a black lady, which it did,
there was something wrong with that passport.
But what no-one could fathom was why nurse McDowell-Foord's passport
had a different date of birth to the real Kate in Dubai.
So was the celebrated NHS nurse a real person or an imposter?
Later, a surprise raid reveals a shocking truth.
This document clearly links her to organised criminal networks
that are able to supply documents to commit fraud.
From the scroungers ripping off the system to the people we call our saints,
those individuals who help put money into the pockets of people in genuine need
and the people too proud or who simply don't know how to claim what is rightfully due to them.
Hearing the news that a child has been diagnosed with autism
would leave most parents feeling devastated and quite alone
at a time that they need help and support the most.
But what do you do when there's no help available?
Debbie from Harlow is the mother of an autistic 11-year-old called Luke,
and parents like her can often feel isolated.
Hiya. Debbie, nice to meet you.
-Yes, and you, come in.
-Shall I put the kettle on?
-Tell me about the diagnosis.
Something in the back of my mind kept saying, "There's something not right."
I thought it was a hearing problem because a bus would go past him and he wouldn't even flinch.
And a bee who I hadn't even heard would go past and he'd completely freak out.
My sister-in-law actually is the one that said, "There's something not right about him,"
because she works with deaf children so she'd met autistic children before.
Debbie's sister-in-law's suspicions proved to be correct.
When Luke was two-and-a-half, a specialist confirmed a diagnosis of autism.
When you heard those awful words, how did you cope?
I felt very alone, I thought I was only person going through it.
Because there was no help, because they didn't say to me,
"There's a support group," I just felt, "Where do you go from here?"
Her friends suggested that Debbie attend a one-off parenting workshop run by Essex County Council,
and she decided to go - a decision that would change everything.
Because it was there that Debbie would meet Sam,
also a mother of autistic children.
A lot of parents don't realise that they are entitled to benefits for their child
to help with living costs, to help with any therapies they need.
Feeling inspired, Debbie agreed to help Sam set up a dedicated local support group.
They called it Parents of Autistic Children Together, or PACT Harlow.
And they've never looked back.
-How many parents are in it now?
-Gosh, we've got probably
well over 130 families that are involved with us.
Wow. This is something you've hit the nail on the head with.
Yeah, exactly. It's snowballed, especially over the last two or three years.
We do events. We have support group meetings.
We do awareness events and work with professionals and families.
The organisation brings families together and it's a vital lifeline
for parents who otherwise would have nowhere to turn.
I didn't have anyone to say, "You know what?
"You need to go here and ring this person and this is available."
So for PACT, as we learned and as we found out about different services and organisations
that we could tap into, we can then signpost other parents to those organisations.
But it's not just parents who benefit.
The children get just as much out of it.
Most of our children don't have close friendships.
At school they may not have a best friend like we had when we were growing up.
By the PACT children, as we call them, getting together,
they get to know each other and they develop friendships.
That's so important because they're learning life skills from each other.
This is why I do PACT, I think. PACT Harlow is moving my life forward, my children's life forward.
I'm learning, they're learning.
The ultimate aim for me is for my children to be independent adults.
Just like Sam, mum Rowan is also trying to secure a better future for her four-year-old son Oak.
Like many autistic children, he has great difficulty communicating.
I can't describe what it's like when you have your child that you love so intensely, so deeply,
and yet you can't reach them and they don't want you to cuddle them.
You know, you call their name and they don't even look round.
You try and give them a kiss and it makes them cry.
Desperate to help Oak, Rowan and her husband Eric decided to take a punt on a new technique,
and it involves getting up close and personal to horses on a special weekend retreat.
Oak initially went up by himself, then he went up with Eric.
They use special saddles where you can sit two of you on.
I think that works really well because then you're holding them tightly.
Quite often kids with autism like that tight sort of hug.
Then Oak that weekend started talking, which is just...
It sounds like I'm making it up but it was just phenomenal.
He came out with 20 words that weekend.
To hear him say words again, it was just so emotional. Fabulous.
Our lives turned at that point.
Inspired, they set about arranging a group day out to a local stables,
but Debbie was worried that her 11-year-old autistic son Luke would hate the experience.
He was standing back and looking.
I took him down where it was quiet
and there was a horse in one of the pens.
This horse was a bit grumpy and just pacing up and down.
Luke paced with this horse and just walked up and down with him.
-In harmony with each other?
Then all of a sudden the horse stopped and got right close
to the fence, and Luke put his hand through and then pulled it out again.
Then the horse just stayed there, quite calm.
Then Luke got his head right under, put his arms right round the horse and snuggled his face in.
And this horse was really grumpy, having a bad day in the office?
Yes, wouldn't let anyone near it.
I was filming it, thinking, "Oh, my God."
-Then this lovely moment that he embraced this horse.
Yeah, it was beautiful.
The group are meeting today to discuss
how to provide all the PACT Harlow children regular access to horses.
You need someone whose daughter has left home and they're left with a horse,
a lovely horse, a family horse.
Shall we buy a horse? We could do that.
This organisation really does have the power to change people's lives for the better.
And what started out as an informal support group is now growing very quickly.
We're so proud of where we are. Once we have our charity status we can get proper funding
to do the things we want to do, because we do want to make a difference.
PACT, for us,
has given us a wider circle of friends.
It's just knowing that if there's a problem,
there's someone there that understands.
PACT is who I am, really.
It comes from the heart. It is hard work but then if we don't do this,
I don't think the opportunities would be out there for the children.
Oh! All gone!
Not only has this group faced head-on the struggle to find help for their kids,
but they've also used their experiences to help others in a similar situation.
For me, that makes them incredibly inspiring.
Back now to the world of the scrounger, and the nurse
who was suspected of stealing another woman's identity.
Kate McDowell-Foord discovered that somebody else was using her name.
That's a name she thought was unique.
Coincidence or something more sinister?
Well, the NHS counter-fraud team were looking into it to try and find out more.
Identity theft is bad enough, but seriously, an imposter nurse
in a position of trust, responsible for life-and-death decisions?
It doesn't bear thinking about.
Yes, she's taken a qualification.
She's working in an NHS hospital.
I don't know, but there may have been other motives for why this has taken place,
because we don't know who this person is
and we don't know why she's undertaken the action that she has.
That's why it is so crucially important to be on top of this, isn't it?
Absolutely. What you've also got to look at is, however good her work record might have been,
you've actually got somebody who's proven to be dishonest.
If this nurse is proved to be an imposter,
then not only have patients potentially been at risk for the past seven years,
but she's also dishonestly claimed £230,000 in earnings
and pilfered a £40,000 training bursary.
She had to be stopped.
The investigation had so far focused on a copy of her passport held on the nurse's personnel file.
The passport number exactly matched the one that the real Kate McDowell-Foord had reported
missing in the post ten years ago,
but the thing is, it had a different date of birth.
Going back to 2000, when Ms McDowell-Foord
applied for her new passport, her new husband completed the form.
And it appears now that the date of birth for Ms McDowell-Foord
was entered incorrectly.
And Ms McDowell-Foord was born in April 1966, and he put down she was born in June 1966.
So the new passport issued that went missing from the UKPA
bore the date of birth of June 1966, which as a result from then on
gave some degree of legitimacy to the false McDowell-Foord,
because it was a different date of birth now on all the records.
Unbelievable. If Kate's new husband had got her date of birth correct
in the first place, the identity theft may have come to light sooner.
Now investigators were sure that the passport on file was a forgery,
and that nurse McDowell-Foord was a fake.
The National Insurance card also held on her employee file was tracked to a person in east London.
The NHS fraud squad felt they now had enough evidence to make their move.
On 11th May 2010, the police arrested the fake McDowell-Foord.
But to bang this woman to rights, it was imperative the investigators find original copies
of the forged documents, so officers conducted a detailed search of her home,
and they weren't disappointed.
This is the UK passport that was found
that had the picture of Nurse McDowell-Foord.
This is the missing passport dispatched in December 2000.
This was subsequently examined by a forensic officer, who established
that the picture had been tampered with and the replacement placed in.
But there was more.
A forged birth certificate was also found, complete with a glaring error.
The birth certificate, for instance,
was proven to be a forgery by the obvious mistake.
For this particular birth certificate
they've recorded the town as Lutterworth, County of Surrey,
and in fact Lutterworth is in Leicestershire and there is no Lutterworth in Surrey.
Other documents found were forged education certificates.
You see, when the imposter applied for her nursing degree course
and the 40 grand training bursary, she was required to provide details
of her Ghanaian qualifications and an address for verification.
The university then wrote to the examining body at the PO Box given.
It is in response to that that they received this certificate,
purportedly with the photograph of McDowell-Foord with her grades.
But it was a fake, conjured up to order by a gang controlling the PO Box address in Ghana.
The fact she was able to provide this document
clearly links her to organised criminal networks
that are able to supply documents to commit fraud.
Other material found at the home address were e-mails and other letters.
She is clearly communicating with family back in Ghana.
There were Christmas cards, there were birthday cards,
and all indication clearly gave the impression her name was Charlotte Larbi.
Bingo. Finally, this scrounger's true identity had been revealed.
For Peter Gorman, who dedicated two years to the case, it was a fantastic result.
What pleased me most about this investigation is that
a person who suspected that her identity has been used,
could have the confidence to report this matter and that all efforts
to verify that information to protect people within the NHS will be carried out.
In April 2010, Charlotte Larbi was summoned to court.
She pleaded guilty to obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception.
In other words, using forged documents
to obtain earnings of £230,000 and a training bursary of £40,000.
The total she pilfered from the public purse was £270,000.
Then in July 2010, she returned to court to receive punishment.
She was slammed with an eight-month prison sentence.
Upon release, we'll be expecting that the UKPA will then be looking to deport her.
So that's her over and done with in this country.
-Good on you. Another good job done.
The sentence, I feel, is fair. It must be shown
that persons who use false documents to obtain employment
will be prosecuted and can face the full weight of the law.
I'm very impressed and relieved that it's sorted.
Impressed that Peter Gorman sorted it out.
He knew what he was doing and the upshot is that I can get on with my life
and feel that it's completely sorted, you know.
This was a serious case of fraud.
Nearly £250,000 worth of taxpayers' money was being paid
to someone using a fake ID so that she could work in the UK.
But she got caught and now she's in prison.
Except this time she has to use her real name.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dominic Littlewood presents a series looking at the work of fraud investigators searching out benefit thieves and meets the people they are stealing from - the genuine claimants.
An imposter steals an innocent woman's identity and lands herself a job as a nurse, helping her to defraud the NHS out of £270,000.
Plus a group of parents with autistic children work together to cope, and find help in the most surprising place - a stable.