Sunday, 16 August 2009

Am I a benefit scrounger?

Am I a benefit scrounger?

Unemployed Amazon reviewer

I've been accused of fraud

Not everybody thinks that I am a benefit scrounger, but one person made clear that he or she thinks that I am not just a benefit scrounger but a fraudster too, by accusing me on a different blog - anonymously, of course. I reproduce those comments and my replies here, modified as appropriate without changing the tone or meaning, to include links and to fit the context of this page.

What a sad Muppet you are. Get off your fat lazy arse and find a job. How the hell can you afford all these Amazon purchases out of your incapacity benefit? Perhaps you should be reported for dole fraud.

I responded ....

I'd love to find a job, but it wasn't easy for me even before the current recession. If you suffer the misfortune of losing your job, you might begin to understand the problems.

I explain everything in detail in this blog, including how I acquired (and continue to acquire) the stuff I review on Amazon. But since you can't be bothered to read it (you don't even know which benefits I'm receiving), I'll summarise by saying that most of the stuff I review was bought in the days when I had a job and plenty of money and I bought some of the rest by making lots of sacrifices and by bargain-hunting. I also borrow stuff I review, especially from Leicester public library. Just because I've reviewed something doesn't mean I bought it, nor that even if I did buy it, that I paid the quoted price.

Oh yes, and I see that you choose to remain anonymous. I don't, which I would do if I were committing fraud. It's very easy for the government to identify me from the information available on the net.

You can report benefit theft if you think you have a case against me, but the government may take action against anybody who wastes their time by malicious accusations such as your accusation against me would be.

Actually, it seems that I was wrong on the point about malicious reporting, because the government accepts anonymous complaints; however, I suspect that they are likely to take complaints more seriously if people are willing to give their name and contact details. As the report benefit theft form itself says, that allows follow-up questions to be asked. If your information is anonymous and the government feels that there is insufficient to launch an investigation, they can't do anything.

I later added ....

Just to add - If anybody would genuinely like to help me get a job, I'll be willing to consider such help. Better still, if you have some vacancies that I might be suitable for, please offer me an interview.

I don't suppose it ever occurred to my accuser to ask his or her employer to consider me for a job.

Much later, I discovered that a different Peter Harris was director of The Muppet Show, but I don't think my accuser knew that. Still, it is slightly amusing.

Further analysis

I could have said a lot more, but it's unlikely that my accuser bothered to read even what I already said and in any case probably didn't expect me to allow the accusation to be posted. However, it's worth looking more closely at the assumptions behind that accusation. Of course, I don't know exactly what my accuser was thinking, but let's look at some possibilities; there may be others.

Out of work means never worked?

It is possible, though hard to credit in these harsh economic times, that my accuser thinks that anybody who is out of work has never worked. Maybe my accuser read enough to know that I was out of work before the recession and assumes that such people have never worked, or maybe assumes that anybody who loses a job should forfeit everything they own if they don't find another job quickly. Even Bankruptcy doesn't force people to give up everything - only valuables such as cars and houses, which can be sold to pay creditors. Even then, they only take enough to pay the creditors. Still, you would think that people would re-evaluate their prejudices in the recession. A lot of well-qualified people lost their jobs because of it.


Maybe my accuser assumed that I continue to lead the kind of life that he or she has, but also buys all those books and music as well. In My lifestyle, I describe how I've adjusted to unemployment, explaining some of the sacrifices I've had to make to be able to continue buying books and music. Other unemployed people make different sacrifices to allow them to do different things. We all have different priorities.

Amazon's reviewing system

Like most people, my accuser doesn't understand the Amazon reviews system, having referred to my supposed Amazon purchases. Sure, I've bought stuff from Amazon but those purchases only account for a minority of my reviews. Amazon do not have a rule saying that you have to buy products through Amazon to review them; that's another of my accuser's misconceptions. Amazon do require you to have a purchasing history (one purchase in your lifetime is sufficient qualification) before you can start reviewing, but this wasn't always the case.

Reviews appearing in magazines and newspapers are limited to recent releases. Amazon allows people to review anything they like, however old, as long as it is listed on Amazon. Because Amazon allows third-party sellers to sell used goods through Amazon, that means it is even possible to review books, CDs and vinyl LPs that went out of print before Amazon came into existence. As such, it is possible for anybody to work through their collection of books and music reviewing just about everything they own - and a lot of what is in their local library too. It is also possible to review stuff owned by family and friends.

Note that if you're planning to review out of print products, it's always advisable to check that they're listed on Amazon first; even Amazon don't list everything. As it is, I try to post my reviews in both the UK and Amazon USA but I am sometimes only able to post in one or the other, although I sometimes discover months or years later that I can post a review at the site that I couldn't originally.

It's worth noting that even if I posted anonymously on Amazon, that wouldn't hide my identity from the government. I'm sure that Amazon would disclose customer details to the government in exceptional circumstances that would include fraud allegations. Maybe they would only do so in response to a court order, but they would do it then. Anonymity always arouses suspicions, so the government would be more likely to investigate me if I tried to hide my identity. Yes, if they want to investigate me, it's better that I am completely open, which is another reason (though not the main one) for using my full name on the internet.

Report genuine fraudsters

I support the reporting of genuine fraudsters, which is why I supply the link here to report benefit theft. Those people damage the reputations of all unemployed people, as my accuser illustrates by appearing to imply that all unemployed people are bad. However, I hear and read about people who feel that their complaints are not investigated. I wonder if this is because the government is swamped by complaints from people jumping to conclusions, just as my accuser did. If the government has to waste time investigating me, it means they aren't investigating some other case.

Before you report benefit theft, I ask that you at least have reasonable grounds for suspicion. If you are able to present detailed evidence rather than scurrilous allegations, your complaint is more likely to be taken seriously. Fraud is a serious issue, but the vast majority of benefit claimants are not fraudsters.

Report me?

Somebody may be stupid enough to report me, but if you're thinking of so doing, remember that I'm half-expecting it. As such, I keep my bank statements to show that I have no other income, just as I keep all my e-mails relating to job applications. Having been through a Bankruptcy, there is no way that I can have multiple bank accounts. If I have to, I am confident that I can defend myself. As I inch ever closer to being pensioned off, I certainly have no wish to do anything that would interfere with my retirement. Would I have really exposed myself so publicly if I were committing fraud?

The police came

On October 31st in the year 2011, I got a knock on my door at around 3.20 a.m. The police wanted to know if I live alone, and they took a look around. So it seems that somebody was stupid enough, or malicious enough, to report me. I was awake at the time as I don't actually sleep much these days anyway, and that was the Monday following the weekend when the clocks switched from summer time to Greenwich mean time. I never heard any more from them.

The persistent threat

Long before this episode happened, I knew that the authorities were looking for any excuse to force people off benefits. I live from day to day with the background fear that an excuse will be found to stop my benefits. As I have no way to borrow money, I have no idea how I would cope, but I'll have to face the situation if it happens.

Among the first things I would do would be to cancel the telephone. That won't stop my internet activities as I can use the local library. I sometimes do that anyway, but I have a memory stick and I can do a lot of stuff offline and transfer stuff between home and the library if I need to. I need the telephone in case employers or agencies want to call me, but if my benefits are cut or stopped I'll have to stop the telephone. Since the authorities want me to find a job, this is nonsensical but the authorities don't care.

I would also stop buying books and music, but they are my only luxury. I stopped buying during my previous financial problems so while it's a nuisance, I can cope with that. I can live frugally if I have to, but I need food, clothes, electricity, water and a roof over my head. I have heard of people having all their benefits stopped for two months just because of forgetting to do something. If I were to lose jobseeker's allowance for a couple of months, that would be tough but I could cope by cutting off the telephone and not buying anything that is not essential to basic survival. If my housing benefit were also stopped, there is no way that I could cope without help from charities or whatever. I would be entering unknown territory, but I have found a way through life's problems so far and I hope I would get through life's problems again.

March 2013

If I don't get a job before then, I'll be pensioned off on March 6th, 2013. That won't stop the authorities checking up on me, but the improved income will allow me to build up a reserve for contingencies.