Woman pleads guilty to several ploys
SACRAMENTO – A woman from Stockton faces decades in jail after pleading guilty on Tuesday to two separate unemployment fraud and identity theft scams, including a high-end scheme where she used a stolen debit card to purchase Louis Vuitton products.
Hopelyn Rhiannon Ausk, 25, pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft after receiving tens of thousands of fraudulent benefits, the US District Court for the Eastern District said from California in a press release.
In the first of the two programs, Ausk reportedly obtained the identity information of at least 20 people and filed fraudulent unemployment insurance claims between May and September 2020 through the CARES Act and the programs of Unemployment assistance in the event of a pandemic that California administers through its Department of Employment Development, according to Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.
EDD paid more than $ 160,000 in the form of Bank of America debit cards that were mailed to Ausk’s home in 12 of the claims, according to court documents. She then activated the cards and spent the profits on herself.
Following:Federal grand jury indicts woman from Stockton on 17 charges of fraud, identity theft and mail
In the second case, Ausk carried out a bank fraud scheme of stealing American mail and collecting bank cards, financial information, checks and identity information between January 2019 and September 2020. Authorities say that she fabricated counterfeit US Postal Service keys to break into cluster mailboxes. and steal mail containing victim’s personal information, financial information, stimulus checks and bank cards, then used the victim’s bank cards and accounts to get money and buy goods for her- same. In July 2019, she used one of Bank of America’s stolen debit cards to make online purchases of Louis Vuitton merchandise.
Ausk is set to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez on November 9 and faces a maximum legal sentence of 20 years in prison for mail fraud, 30 years in prison for bank fraud, a mandatory additional sentence of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $ 250,000 for each count. The case arose as a result of an investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Stockton Police Department and was prosecuted by US Special Assistant Prosecutor Robert J. Artuz.
The local case was one of hundreds of thousands targeting California’s beleaguered unemployment benefit system, resulting in billions of dollars in fraudulent claims being paid, including one in which more than 1,700 claims were sent to one address, a scathing state audit in January. find. Unemployment agencies across the United States became lucrative targets for criminals when they were bombarded with claims last year as millions of jobs were lost in widespread coronavirus shutdowns, reported the ‘Associated Press.
Officials with the state’s Employment Development Department said in January that they had confirmed more than $ 11 billion in fraud and were investigating $ 19 billion in other suspicious claims for potential fraud.
Following:States overpaid nearly $ 13 billion in unemployment benefits, GAO says
Magnitude of “astronomical” fraud
In April, a California task force revealed that there had been 68 arrests and 1,641 investigations into tens of thousands of fraudulent claims filed involving people in prison and prison, including death row inmates, who could ultimately total $ 2 billion.
Among those whose names have been used in the claims include San Quentin inmate Scott Peterson, who was convicted of the murder of his wife and unborn son in Modesto, but denied applying for unemployment benefits .
Investigators said some claims were filed on behalf of incarcerated people without their knowledge, but several cases emerged in which incarcerated people coordinated with friends and family to file fraudulent claims.
“The scale of EDD fraud in California is astronomical,” Sacramento County Attorney Ann Marie Schubert said after the revelations. “While there is a lot of work to be done, significant progress has been made not only to identify those who commit these crimes, but also to prevent further EDD frauds.”
California officials in charge of the state’s unemployment benefit system ignored warnings about widespread fraud allegations during the COVID-19 pandemic for months, the state audit found.
Specifically, EDD waited about four months to automate a key anti-fraud measure, took incomplete action against claims filed from suspicious addresses, and removed a key warranty against inappropriate payments without fully understanding the importance of the guarantee, “State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote. .
According to MP Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, Chair of the Assembly’s Accountability and Administrative Review Committee: âThis audit clearly shows that ESD has lost billions of taxpayer dollars not because that they were foiled by criminal brains, but because of downright inexcusable mistakes.
Are you the victim of a scam or want to make sure?
EDD offers several tips to help you protect yourself and your identity. Pay attention to:
- Romantic scams. Includes fake dating profiles or people who immediately ask for money.
- Job opportunities. Legitimate employers are very unlikely to hire by direct message.
- Cash gifts, rewards or prizes. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
- Offers from unclaimed vehicles or personal property.
- Never provide unknown applicants or lawyers with name and date of birth; Social Security number; credit card information; Credit Card Number; photos of government documents; type of phone or mobile operator; or credit rating.
- Do not respond to communications on social media or phone apps. EDD does not contact applicants this way.
How to tell if it’s really ESD on the other end of the phone:
If EDD calls you, your Caller ID may say “St of CA EDD” or the UI customer service number (800) 300-5616. If you have opted for SMS alerts, messages are sent from 510-74 or 918-06 to the telephone number you provided on your unemployment claim. Text messages asking people to activate a benefit debit card by clicking on a link are scams. Bank of America and EDD never text people to reactivate a debit card.
EDD will not send representatives to your home or contact you through social media or other websites.
If you receive a letter or Form 1099G from EDD, but you have not filed a claim for benefits and you believe someone else has filed a claim under your name, address, or telephone number, social security, here’s how to file a fraud report:
- Benefit fraud – Visit Ask EDD at https://askedd.edd.ca.gov/AskEDD/s/ and select the Report Fraud category.
- Form 1099G – Visit Ask EDD and select the Form 1099G category or call (866) 401-2849, weeks 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on statutory holidays.)
Source: Employment Development Service
The Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Record-breaking journalist Elizabeth Roberts covers the community and the latest news. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ eroberts209. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at recordnet.com/subscribenow.