Tracking welfare fraud in Washington State

VIDEO: KIRO 7 Investigates - Welfare fraud cases in Washington

A vast majority of people receiving state or federal benefits actually deserve them, but a small minority is defrauding the system to make big money.

“Sometimes people get greedy,” says Steve Lowe, the senior director of the Office of Fraud and Accountability at the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. “What we do everyday is to make sure the benefits get to the right people.”

Lowe leads a team of 38 investigators handling welfare fraud cases in every single county in the state.

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Since 2010, annual overpayments have increased more than 400 percent. Last year, the agency recorded $7.3 million, which includes suspected fraud.

“We see everything from a few dollars, $300 or $400, all the way up to $100,000,” says Lowe.

In rare cases, the totals are even higher.

Prosecutors say Travis Edward Fischer illegally received $450,000 in benefits over several years. Fischer applied for benefits under two different Social Security numbers and even went so far as to pretend to be his own disabled twin brother to continue the scheme. In 2016, he was convicted, sent to jail and ordered to pay back all the money he received.

Tonight at 5pm, KIRO 7 investigates new cases of local welfare fraud. How the suspects were able to get tens of thousands of dollars and the most common way the fraudsters are caught.