I have been a Counter Fraud Specialist for over twenty years, specialising in protecting the public purse and since jumping into self-employment ten years ago I have worked for many clients in all four corners of the UK, mainly in the areas of Benefit, Tenancy and Corporate Fraud and usually my clients are Local Councils. Very rarely does anything surprise me anymore, or at least I thought not……
It was whilst working in Essex as a Counter Fraud Consultant for Thurrock Council in 2009 a case dropped on my desk which appeared fairly low priority at first. Nicola Burridge had claimed Housing and Council Tax Benefit for an address in Grays, Essex since 2004, stating she was receiving Income Support for herself and her children and that she rented her street house in a nice suburban terraced location from a lady in London called Elizabeth Tetteh. A colleague in the Council Tax Team had been passed information which suggested Burridge’s property was not occupied by her and her family but rather by a succession of people on what appeared to neighbours to be short term multiple occupants. That’s how the case came to me. Now, where to start?
I put together an initial investigation plan and went about the usual intelligence checks. The exemption provided by Sect 29(3) of the Data Protection Act as well as the more specific Social Security Administration Act provide certified investigators such as myself with access to information from all manor of sources from utility and phone companies, credit providers, banks and financial institutions and many many more. Add to this access (where justified) to information held by service partners such as Police, Department for Work and Pensions, HMRC and UKBA, then you can see we have a good base from which to start.
As the investigation progressed, the more intelligence I gathered the more I felt I was missing something and no amount of head banging and hand wringing could tease the missing needle out of this particular haystack of information in front of me. Then, just as I was giving up all hope, as well as questioning my own ability (and sanity!) I finally got a bit of a break……
Several alternative names were coming to light through financial checks on bank accounts and one of those was Nicola Copeland. When I ran various checks I found that Nicola Copeland had actually died as a child in Central London during the 1960’s and her grave was just around the corner to where Elizabeth Tetteh lived. This was a significant breakthrough, as it proved the people I was investigating were definitely capable of a certain level of dishonesty.
So, convinced I was on the right track, and given an amazing vote of confidence by my then gaffer and colleagues, I then planned, directed and mounted a number of surveillance operations. Burridge was now claiming
Job Seekers Allowance and so initial observations saw her sign on at Grays Job Centre, identifying her and her vehicle. Late night car journeys in London then showed the car Burridge had used for her Grays sign on trips was parked outside Tetteh’s address, more confirmation that they were one and the same person. Checks showed that Tetteh herself was claiming Income Support, Housing and Council Tax Benefit in her own right in London (Yes Really!) Further observations saw a team of Council and DWP Investigators follow Burridge from signing on in Grays to a hairdressers shop in Lea Bridge Road, Walthamstow. The owner of the salon confirmed he had let the premises to an Elizabeth Burridge (see what she did there?) in 2006 on a nine-year lease. He confirmed she ran the business on her own. Signage on the shop gave me a telephone number, which was a mobile number she had provided to the Department for Work and Pensions in Burridge’s claim for Income Support.
Right, now what? Ok, so this was getting bigger than I thought by the day as I discovered several other properties in London which had been obtained using ahem, questionable mortgages in several names which all linked back to Tetteh/Burridge. The properties had been split into flats and after a day of good old gumshoe work I found myself with a fistful of signed statements from her tenants identifying our alleged fraudster as their landlady.
After meetings with Essex and Met Police I found myself at 5.30am in Forest Gate Police Station briefing teams of officers and colleagues for four simultaneous searches of properties in London and Grays. What a very successful day! The supposed family home in Grays was unoccupied and had been split into flats and obviously let out, the hairdressers and the second house in Newham yielded bags and bags of evidence tying the identities together. The jewel in this particular crown was the arrest of Tetteh at her Waltamstow (Housing Association owned) flat, where we also found a mountain of evidence pointing to the frauds committed.
I interviewed her three times, mainly No Comment, but she did make certain admissions, she never showed any remorse.
The figures are staggering, ignoring the mortgages (the companies did not want to be involved, probably due to embarrassment), Tetteh had claimed a combined total of £90,549.96 in Housing and Council Tax Benefits, Income Support and Job Seekers Allowance.
Even after she was charged her arrogance continued. In mid-January she appeared at Basildon Crown Court for her trial. She had been charged with 19 offences of fraudulently claiming benefits, 17 of which she admitted. The two charges she denied related to the theft of the identity of the deceased child. Being a witness I was called to give evidence and so had travelled down the day before to Essex from my base on Teesside. The morning of the trial she changed her final two pleas to Guilty. A first major result for me in that she had finally admitted the enormity of her deceptions. Sentencing was adjourned for reports and I drove all the way to my current clients offices in Paisley near Glasgow with a smile on my face for the whole six and a half hours!
On 18th February 2013 Elizabeth Anyele Tetteh of Windsor Court, Walthamstow, London, was sentenced to two years imprisonment and justice for me was most definitely done.
FraudBloke is a Fraud Manager and Investigator, PINS and PINS(M) qualified, who has almost 25 years’ experience of identifying, investigating and prosecuting individuals who falsely claim benefits or commit Tenancy Fraud and Corporate Fraud.
Follow FraudBloke on Twitter: @FraudBloke