£1million benefit fraudsters caught out

THERE is no place to hide for benefit fraudsters.Suffolk's fraud chiefs have sent a stark message today to those considering trying to scam they system – they will get you.

THERE is no place to hide for benefit fraudsters.

Suffolk's fraud chiefs have sent a stark message today to those considering trying to scam they system – they will get you.

And the weight behind the threat is there to see with more than £1million recovered from Suffolk benefit cheats in the past nine months, The Evening Star can reveal today.

Anti- Fraud minister Chris Pond had just one thing to say: "If you commit benefit fraud in Suffolk, sooner or later you can expect a knock on the door from one of our inspectors.

"Benefit fraudsters in Suffolk face tough penalties that reflect the seriousness of the crime - and that could mean a prison sentence."

Since April, nearly 2,000 cases of people fiddling the system in the county have been investigated, leading to around 300 prosecutions.

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And 1,250 people have had their benefit stopped or reduced as part of the crackdown.

Although the main towns of Suffolk have proved to be hotspots for the crime, more than half of all cases reported and prosecuted have involved people from Ipswich.

Nationally, fraudulent claims cost the taxpayer about £2billion a year. In the east of England, it accounts for £31 million - the equivalent of 434 doctors, 992 nurses and 961 teachers.

Kevin Lafferty, fraud operations manager for Suffolk, from Job Centre Plus said he is keen to highlight the cost of the various scams to the taxpayer.

He said: "People still see fiddling the social as a white collar crime and some see it as acceptable.

"But it's not a victimless crime. If we could eradicate it altogether it would mean there would be far more money available for the people who need it." Common ploys used include claiming income support and disability living allowance where they are not entitled.

Just last week, Alan Lawrence, of Shenstone Drive, Ipswich, was given a £1,000 fine and ordered to pay £100 legal costs for scamming nearly £12,500.

The 54-year-old had been claiming incapacity benefit and disability living allowance for around 18 months - at the same time as working as a driver and warehouse assistant.

Lisa Keer, 26, of Felix Road, Ipswich, was jailed for one month after claiming £3,500 of income support as a single parent, between December 2003 and March 2004, while living with her partner.

A team of 34 investigators operate in Suffolk, working alongside other local authorities, and are always on the prowl for benefit cheats. They work in covert operations and have the power to access bank accounts to check out their suspicions.

Nick Havard, who works from Ipswich's Jobcentre plus, in Silent Street, appealed for members of the public to report those swindling the system.

He said: "The public are our eyes. We're grateful for any information people can give us - even if it's only a suspicion.

"We don't want people to be scared about coming to tell us. We never divulge the source of our information."

Anyone who knows of a benefit cheat is asked to call the National Benefit Fraud Hotline, free and in confidence, on 0800 854 440.

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