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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 5/23/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Social media snares swindlers

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

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A lot of people like to brag about themselves and what they’re doing. Sometimes even when what they’re doing is illegal.

And when they do that on social media Web sites, they give investigators such as Shawn Fox of the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation a case that’s practically gift-wrapped.

“It’s just out there to grab. I don’t think people realize how easy it is for us to grab,” said Mr. Fox, special agent in charge, who covers western Ohio.

Oftentimes investigators hesitate to share specific methods they use to help solve crimes and track down criminals. However, in the case of BWC investigators using social media, there isn’t a whole lot to share. They’re essentially just logging on, the same as anyone else does.

“Ever since social media has become integrated into our society, we’ve utilized that to our benefit,” Mr. Fox said. “Basically we just use the public pages that are out there. What people put out on social media, it’s not private if it’s public. People are just bragging about what they’re doing.”

Recently that helped investigators prosecute a Port Clinton woman. Kelley Wheeler, 55, pleaded guilty in February to one count of workers compensation fraud after investigators used her Facebook postings to prove she was working while collecting benefits. Wheeler was ordered last week by a Franklin County Common Pleas judge to pay the state restitution of $61,213.72. She also was sentenced to 17 months in jail, which was suspended for five years of community control.

Mr. Fox said Wheeler was receiving working-wage loss, which is intended to make up the difference between what an injured worker used to make and what they currently make.

BWC became suspicious of the employment documentation Wheeler submitted about her former employer.

Investigators found the company for which she claimed to have worked never existed. Investigators further found from Facebook postings that Wheeler was working for a pet-grooming business in Sandusky and not reporting those wages.

BWC said Wheeler admitted the payroll documents she submitted were fakes and that she purposely did not report her earnings from Purrfect Paws, the grooming business. The agency said she acknowledged what she was doing was wrong but said she did not want to lose her benefits.

Social-media postings also helped BWC prosecute another recent case in which a Celina man who claimed he was unable to find work because of an inability to lift more than 10 pounds. BWC investigated after being tipped off that Jason Dross was working out at a YMCA while collecting benefits.

“We found him on social media sites bragging about how much weight he was lifting, taking pictures of himself posing in the gym with weights in his arms," Mr. Fox said Tuesday.

A hidden camera video later captured Doss bench-pressing more than 500 pounds. He pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced in January to repay the state more than $30,000.

In a news release about the Wheeler case, BWC administrator and Chief Executive Steve Buehrer said social media has become increasingly useful in securing convictions of those swindling the state.

“As social media has grown, BWC investigators have deployed enhanced analysis of these sites to support our investigations,” he said in a statement. “Our fraud team has proven very resourceful when it comes to ensuring dishonest employers, workers, and providers do not escape detection.”

Mr. Fox said BWC often receives tips from people who have seen questionable postings on social media.

“It actually has helped us with stirring up allegations," he said.

People can report their suspicions on the BWC’s own Facebook page, facebook.com/ohiobwcfraud.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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