Series looking at benefit fraud. How one scrounger stole thousands of pounds in another man's name, ran up traffic convictions and claimed benefits worth 60,000 pounds.
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What makes this country really great, is we all give money to people who really need it.
But the problem with that is wherever you have money, there are people trying to steal it.
Welcome to the world of Saints and Scroungers.
Saints and Scroungers puts the spotlight on the benefit thieves
who ruthlessly steal millions of pounds every year from the British taxpayer
and it highlights the plights of men and women who are too proud
or simply don't know how to claim the benefits they deserve.
The saints provide help and the scroungers get tracked down
by the fraud investigators who put an end to their devious scams.
And coming up on today's programme...
How one scrounger stole thousands of pounds, but used another man's name to do it.
They think he's the gentleman and you're the fake.
And a husband and wife find help in a time of desperate need.
There are people out there that can help anybody.
It's just being able to find them.
But first, this is the story of the havoc that's caused when somebody else steals your name.
Passports, credit cards, driving licences, even bus passes.
Everyday items that hold a key ingredient for criminals - your personal information.
If criminals manage to get this, they can open up bank accounts, order goods on the internet,
even start claiming benefits illegally, but in your name.
This is Leonard Higgins. Or is it?
This dad of two may look harmless,
but it's suspected that for nearly ten years he led a double life.
Living under the name of Higgins in Lewisham, southeast London, he went about his daily business.
He also ran up traffic convictions, unpaid bills
and claimed benefits worth a massive £60,000.
But this scrounger hadn't only been scamming from us.
He was using somebody else's identity
and it caused untold grief for a completely innocent man.
The story begins back in March 2009 when Leonard Higgins
came to Lewisham benefits office to register as homeless.
He had claimed benefits for years, then something happened
that caught the attention of the fraud department at Lewisham Council.
Carol Owen was in charge of the case.
The guy that we originally thought
was Leonard Higgins had lived in the area for a quite a few years. He'd moved from various addresses.
He'd actually been claiming benefits from us since 2002
and had two kids living with him.
All looked fine, no problem. He'd moved from address to address, mainly temporary accommodation,
and it came to a stage in 2009 when he actually applied as homeless with two children.
I'm assuming once you heard he was about to become homeless with two children,
suddenly his case goes right to the top of a very important pile.
He is classed as being priority needs, but at that stage he was still in accommodation.
Leonard Higgins submitted his housing application through the normal channels,
but then the fraud department received a tip-off
that Leonard Higgins wasn't his real name.
Was this man an impostor? All of his paperwork was in order.
So if he was a phoney, they needed to gather some proof.
And the fraud office began a full-scale investigation into Leonard Higgins.
We have a specialist investigator who deals with that type of fraud.
She would look at fraudulent homelessness applications
to ensure that people's circumstances are as they say.
The investigators began gathering ID on Leonard Higgins.
There's stacks of it, from high street bank accounts to NHS cards - all 100% genuine.
Anti-fraud manager Carol Owen shows me just how convincing his ID is.
Now, banks are so fussy about money laundering
they normally want loads of proof from people.
But here we go. I mean, it's one of the major high street banks.
There he is having money paid in, writing cheques etc, etc.
He'd got the birth certificate, he'd got the passport, he'd got the medical card -
-all the documents you'd need to open a bank account.
-They're not doing anything wrong.
They're genuine documents. It's not as if they're forged documents.
And they've got his picture on them.
And investigators found that it's not just the paperwork
that suggests this man IS Leonard Higgins.
Now, because of the sensitive nature of their job,
both fraud investigators involved in the case
have asked to remain anonymous.
He'd worked in the name of Leonard Higgins.
His children's school knew him as Leonard Higgins.
So, he was, as far as he was concerned, Leonard Higgins.
This Mr Higgins was certainly milking the system for all it's worth,
as this benefits investigator discovered.
Mr Higgins claimed Jobseeker's Allowance,
housing benefit and council tax benefit.
In housing benefit and council tax benefit, about £54,000.
And in addition to that, he had Jobseeker's Allowance,
which brought it to just under £60,000.
The team had to investigate the case without alerting Mr Higgins that they were on to him.
In his housing application, he'd provided lots of paperwork,
and one particular document caught their eye.
He'd provided a birth certificate for what he claimed to be his son.
But on the birth certificate, the father's name was stated to be Peter Rhoden.
Was this the clue they were looking for?
Either Leonard Higgins wasn't the real dad or Peter Rhoden was his real name.
It was a lead, but it wasn't enough to prove that Leonard Higgins was using a fraudulent identity.
They needed more evidence, and that's when a routine procedure opened up a new avenue of enquiry.
Every so often they run different data sets
of different benefit records across the country,
and it identifies any people that are claiming, or looks as if they're claiming, in two areas.
So, everybody claiming benefits in the UK's information goes into a big pot,
a computer sifts through it and goes, "Hang on. Someone's living in wherever
-"with this name and someone's living somewhere else with the same name. Let's start looking into it."
And in the midst of all this data, they struck gold.
There was another person with the name of Leonard Higgins,
with the same date of birth, actually, down in Portsmouth.
The discovery of two "Leonard Higgins" with identical dates of birth
was a major breakthrough, but it threw up another problem.
Remember, at this stage all of Leonard Higgins' paperwork was in order,
except for one reference to a Peter Rhoden on his son's berth certificate.
We had Leonard Higgins that was in Portsmouth and Leonard Higgins in Lewisham.
We knew one wasn't the real Leonard Higgins. It was a matter of figuring out which one was.
At the time, we was not that sure whether or not it was the one person,
whether or not there was a mistake with our systems.
So therefore, we decided that a visit needed to be conducted to Portsmouth
to actually find out whether or not the person in Portsmouth
was the real Mr Leonard Higgins.
So there were two Leonard Higgins claiming benefits in different towns,
and both with seemingly genuine paperwork - someone was a fraud.
Question was, who?
-I'm Dominic Littlewood.
-No, you're not. I'm Dominic Littlewood.
-No, you can't be, because I'm Dominic Littlewood.
-Behave yourself! I'm Dominic Littlewood.
-Think about the poor investigator who had to try and work out
if a fraud had been committed, and not only that, which one was the fraudster.
Coming up, we meet the real Leonard Higgins.
It's not easy when someone else
is pretending to be you.
Next, it's farewell to the scroungers and hello to the saints.
The innocent men and women all over the UK in dire need of Government help.
and the people who show them the way to claim what they deserve.
When you spend your life working hard,
it's only natural to make ambitious plans for your family's future.
But the trouble is, you never know what is around the corner.
And when life throws a spanner in the works and shatters your dreams,
it can leave you facing the sort of hardships that you never could've imagined.
David Robinson and his wife Susan were hit by a double blow
when they were both diagnosed with a debilitating illness in 2005.
David is on strong medication, which affects his speech.
Well, we reached a stage
where both of us were in a bad way physically.
But ten years prior to this, it was a different story.
-Hi, Dom. Come on in.
-Good to meet you, mate. How are you? You all right?
-Yeah, nice to see you.
It was 2000. Things started happening to Susan,
and we didn't understand what it was.
I'd find her on the floor - damaged her head.
Take her to hospital, have her examined and everything. Didn't know what had happened.
Susan was diagnosed with late-onset epilepsy.
It's a condition that's defined by seizures and blackouts, which are almost impossible to predict.
It was to have a huge impact on family life.
At the same time,
I had set up my own business as a consultant
and I was working away.
David was increasingly torn between running his fledgling business and caring for Susan,
but it wasn't the only thing he was struggling with.
I started to develop pains.
I spent a lifetime weightlifting. I knew what pains were.
But these were pains that were slowing me down.
It was things that I couldn't overcome.
Their 18-year mortgage was based on a dual income,
and with Susan not able to work, the pressure to keep the cash coming in was all on David.
When the painkillers stopped working, it was time to see a doctor.
What was happening to my body was becoming almost unbearable.
David was diagnosed with osteoarthritis,
a very painful degenerative disease of the joints.
And if that wasn't enough, they also found he had type 2 diabetes.
This proud, fit man was destined to take a cocktail of medication for the rest of his life.
It was a cruel blow.
I took it personally.
Now I've reached a stage where I can't provide for my family.
In his business, David had been a public speaker and an advocate for young enterprise.
Both he and Susan had had a very busy social life.
But burdened by debt and affected by the side-effects of their medication,
they sank deeper into depression.
I was at a really low ebb. Really low.
I didn't know how we was going to cope,
so I went onto the internet.
And I just came across this carers' charity.
And I actually got the phone number.
I needed a person to speak to, that's how bad I felt, actually.
So, I got the phone number and I rang them up.
She hoped that phone call would be the answer to their problems.
And when Janette Olley of Carers First was handed the details of the case,
the first thing she did was give them a financial overhaul.
We helped them to get the care component of DLA.
We did that by contacting the benefit agency and getting the paperwork sent.
Although they had been claiming disability allowance,
like many people, they hadn't realised they were entitled to carer's allowance.
After years of scraping by, the couple suddenly found themselves better off by £190 a week.
How much difference did that make to your life?
It made an awful lot.
For one thing, we were eating better, quality food.
And we were able to divide it out and help pay the bills that were...
..building up in the background, you know?
It helped us cope better knowing that we did have an income coming in.
David is finally feeling the confidence to try and re-establish some of his old ways.
So, David and Susan are on their way to the local church
where David is giving the thought for the day.
And it's the first time he'll have spoken in public since the onset of his illness.
I've got to rediscover my self-confidence,
which I've not had for many, many years.
I'm hoping today I'm going to find it and get it back,
but I'm still very nervous over it.
-ALL: Hi, David.
You all know myself and my wife Susan.
Help is something that we all try to give each other.
But when somebody has forgotten how to ask for help,
how do you help that person?
That's the situation that we were in.
Just coming to this church here and being with you people helped me an awful lot.
David shows no signs that he's nervous,
but Susan knows just how big a mountain he's climbed to get to this moment.
Let it be your reminder that no-one ever makes it alone.
I'm really, really proud. I really am.
Because I know what a week it's been for him to do this.
And now that he's done, David is on a high.
I feel as if I've changed something today...
..and I actually feel better.
Yeah. I'm glad I did that.
You'd be hard pushed to find a more determined couple than David and Susan,
because no matter what life has thrown at them, they've fought back.
Their experience shows how important it is not to suffer in silence,
because asking for help is not the same as giving up.
Since they took the plunge, they have never looked back.
Over in Lewisham, the council's fraud team
are on the verge of cracking a case of stolen identity.
This man claims to be Leonard Higgins.
What's more, he has a mountain of official documents to prove it.
However, a tip-off from another department in Lewisham Council
has suggested he's not all that he seems.
What's needed is solid evidence that he's pulling a fast one.
Millions of pounds a year are spent on investigating identity theft.
It's a costly and damaging crime, so how can you guard against becoming a victim?
Councils' fraud detection teams are always hot on the heels of those
who are stealing people's identities, but prevention is better than detection.
James Jones is a specialist in identity theft.
and in protecting people against ID fraud.
There were nearly 110,000 reported cases of identity fraud in 2009,
and that's a figure that's been increasing for a number of years.
It is often referred to as a silent crime,
simply because it can take a long time for victims typically to find out -
according to Experian, 416 days, which is obviously more than year.
Typically, people only find out when the debt collectors knock on the door
or maybe they apply for credit and are refused out of the blue.
The most common type of ID fraud is current address fraud
where the fraudster applies for credit at the victim's address,
typically by intercepting or even redirecting the victim's post.
And in today's world of rapid data exchange,
these enterprising criminals have plenty of ways to get your details.
The key pieces of information a fraudster needs - like your name, date of birth, address -
you could find quite easily by looking at people's social networking pages
or even rummaging through people's dustbins.
They might use other methods like phishing,
which is the sending of spam e-mails purporting to come, for instance, from your bank
with a link to a website that looks like your bank and isn't your bank.
That's another way a fraudster can use to get hold of your personal data
to enable them to piece together your identity and commit that crime.
So, just how can you keep yourself safe from the fraudsters?
Be very careful who you give information to.
If you're throwing documents away, make sure you shred them.
Don't volunteer too much information on social networking pages and that sort of thing.
At the same time, you need to be vigilant.
You need to be on the lookout for the common signs of fraud, such as regular pieces of post not appearing,
unfamiliar items on your credit report
or items you don't recognise on your bank and credit card statements,
because those are the common signs that someone is actually using your details.
The sooner you spot them and intervene,
the easier it will be to set the record straight.
All important steps to take, because once you identity is stolen,
it can take a lot of work to undo the damage.
Lewisham's fraud department are hot on the heels of an ID forger who's using someone else's details.
That means they're after two people who are using the same identity.
Now, how do they prove who's who, and how does the real person prove who he really is?
Through a routine procedure, investigators from benefit and housing fraud
have found two Leonard Higgins, both with the same date of birth, living 80 miles apart.
You can't have one person in two places,
so we had Leonard Higgins that was in Portsmouth and Leonard Higgins in Lewisham.
We knew one of them wasn't the real Leonard Higgins. We were trying to find out which one it was.
There's only one way to get to the bottom of it.
They need to meet the Leonard Higgins living in Portsmouth.
Now, the investigators know that people dread seeing them, but they were in for a surprise.
He was very co-operative.
He provided us with a copy of his driving licence,
which at the time he was not aware that we had already received
a copy of the driving licence from Mr Higgins in London.
And, you know, by looking at the two...
They were two completely different people.
So, it was a really useful visit.
He was able to provide so much information about his life history,
and answer questions that no-one else would know,
that we were convinced that the one down in Portsmouth was the genuine Leonard Higgins,
and the one that had been claiming in our area wasn't.
Not only were the investigators pleased,
but the real Leonard Higgins was relieved to see them as well,
because for years, he had been at the sharp end of fraud.
I first realised something was wrong when I moved from Birmingham to Oxford.
I went to claim benefits in Oxford.
I went into the office only to be told
that someone was already claiming benefits in my name on my behalf.
I was absolutely stunned, because I'd been working before that and I hadn't claimed benefits,
so I'm not sure how long it had been going on before I actually found out.
He reported it to the fraud department.
Not long after this, he no longer needed to claim benefit and heard no more about it.
But strange things just kept happening.
All my doctor's records kept going down to London,
so my doctor didn't believe that I was me.
Then I found out he was claiming CSI - CSA -
for two children in my name.
Then he went to court in my name and got a fine.
Then the bailiffs turned up at my door wanting to collect my possessions,
so then I had to get in touch with the courts in London.
I had to appear in court to deny it was me
and get that offence taken away from me, so then I could...
It was just awful, awful, awful.
So, it was vital they cracked the ID of the faker
before he caused any more damage.
And there was one name that kept cropping up - Peter Rhoden.
So, the one in Lewisham, how hard was it to find out who he really was?
As we made further enquiries,
he also did actually have some bills in the name of Peter Rhoden.
He hadn't used his new identity for everything.
He also did have a criminal record in the name of Rhoden.
They now had plenty of circumstantial evidence
that Peter Rhoden was the real name of the fraudster,
and they new for sure that the real Leonard Higgins lived in Portsmouth.
It was time to go and get their man.
A gentleman came to the door
and my police colleague asked the gentleman if he was Leonard Higgins.
His response was, "No, I'm Peter Rhoden."
What we were thinking then was, "We've got our man."
The reason being that the tenancy at this address was allocated to Leonard Higgins,
so therefore going back and thinking about the evidence we already had,
we knew we were on to a winner.
Peter Rhoden was taken into Lewisham Police Station where he was interviewed under caution.
All they now needed was a confession.
Mr Rhoden, we came to your address this morning and you were arrested due to our visit.
-Do you understand what you've been arrested for?
-Can you explain to me what you're...
-Deception and fraud.
-OK. What name was the deception in?
-It was Leonard Higgins.
OK. How long have you been using that name?
For quite some time.
It was one of the easiest interviews under caution that I've been part of,
because he admitted that he was Peter Rhoden
and that he had entered the UK in 1983
and he was an overstayer,
and he'd been using the ID of Leonard Higgins.
So, Rhoden is a Jamaican national who lied to stay in the UK.
At the end of the interview, he said that he had been living the lie so long,
he genuinely thought that he was Leonard Higgins.
It was like a relief to him to finally get this off his chest.
Rhoden confessed that he had bought a copy
of Leonard Higgins' birth certificate from another fraudster for £50.
The real Mr Higgins doesn't know how that could have happened,
but after his experience, he's certain of one thing.
To anyone who doesn't think that this could happen to them,
be very careful around all your ID - passports, driving licence.
I would be very, very cautious around that kind of stuff.
I mean, even when I'm throwing away bills, I'm careful to tear them up.
and make sure, you know, there's no way people will get any of my ID again.
On 21 May, 2010, Peter Rhoden pleaded guilty to benefit fraud offences.
He had illegally claimed benefits of £59,765.
Over £54,000 from Lewisham Borough,
and nearly £5,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions.
He was given a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
He was ordered to do 240 hours unpaid community work
and issued with a four-month curfew between 7pm and 8am.
But it doesn't end there.
The UK Borders Agency will seek to remove Peter Rhoden from the country.
For investigators, it's a job very well done.
If we hadn't have stopped Peter Rhoden with the claim in the name of Leonard Higgins,
I have no doubt he'd still be claiming benefit in that name.
Identity fraudsters probably think they're clever,
and their little tricks might keep investigators off their scent for a while,
but as the case of Peter Rhoden goes to show,
sooner or later, they always get their man.
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.
How one scrounger stole thousands of pounds but used another man's name to do it. He also ran up traffic convictions and unpaid bills, and claimed benefits worth 60,000 pounds.
Plus a couple, both with debilitating illnesses, reach rock bottom until they receive some help that gets them back on their feet.