Social Security fraud: Hiding a death to steal benefits a growing problem

Concealing a death to steal Social Security money is a growing trend, News Center 7’s I-Team discovered after an 89-year-old woman was found dead in a Dayton basement's plastic bin.

The woman's granddaughter called police and said a family member may have been cashing her Social Security checks for up to three years.

"That's fraud. That's federal fraud for Social Security benefits," the granddaughter told a 911 police dispatcher. "I know it sounds crazy."

Mary Alice Lauhon's body showed "no signs of trauma," according to a preliminary Montgomery County Coroner autopsy report, obtained by the I-Team.

However, the report went on to say that when investigators discovered Lauhon's body in a plastic bin in the basement of a Virginia Avenue home, it "was badly decomposed" and "partially mummified."

The Office of the Inspector General investigates hundreds of similar cases every year, Acting Communications Director Tracy Lynge told the I-Team.

A Virginia woman, for example, spent six months in prison after cashing $152,000 in her grandmother's Social Security checks for a decade after she died.

In another case, a Pennsylvania man spent a year and a half in prison and had to pay back more than $300,000 after he stole his mother's Social Security for nearly 40 years after she died.

"It's a crime to use those benefits, because they're only meant for that specific person," Lynge said.

Recently, the OIG found a new way to crack down on fraud. Inspectors Generals cross Social Security records with those from Medicare to see who is using both benefits.

"They found people who were alive in Social Security records but deceased when they looked at the fact that they hadn't been looking at Medicare in several years," Lynge said.

However, after the I-Team attempted months of correspondence, Dayton Police Department and Social Security Administration representatives would not confirm if Lauhon's case involves fraud.

When the I-Team called a number listed for the family member accused of stealing Lauhon's Social Security, the woman who answered said it was a wrong number.

Lauhon's preliminary autopsy said her cause of death remains "undetermined."