Too sick to walk, but working as tour guide

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Turns out the “travel bug” isn’t an acceptable disability claim, as British writer Tracy Johnson as discovered.
Johnson claimed she was agoraphobic (afraid of public spaces) to the point that she couldn’t walk or leave her home and received £50,000 (CAD$92,000) in disability benefits.  However, court documents show she was running her own tour company in Argentina.
Johnson also allegedly spent four months travelling through India, shopping in New York and enjoyed a sunshine break in Spain.
“Tracy Johnson was living the life that honest, decent, hardworking tax payers could only dream of.,” Prosecutor Joanna James said. “While workers were going out to do their daily grind she was shopping in New York or having a few days in Madrid.”
Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court, in Wales, also heard Johnson had set herself up as a wedding photographer while she was in Argentina.
Forms Johnson allegedly submitted to the authorities claimed she needed emotional and physical support every day. She claimed a friend cared for her on a daily basis, spending all her time in her bedroom where she felt ‘safe’.
She also claimed she suffered depression, hallucinations, anxiety, blackouts and post traumatic stress disorder, and could not walk more than five metres without help.
Johnson, 52, was caught after an anonymous tip-off about her alleged worldwide travels and was out of the country when authorities tried to contact her. She was arrested when she tried to renew her benefits claim last June on her return from India.
“She asked for them to be backdated and even persuading a community nurse to complete the form on her behalf. It was absolute, blatant dishonesty,” James told the court.
The trial is ongoing.
  • Laura on 2014-04-28 9:21:35 AM

    This is real shame for the people out there that are truly disabled. Mental health issues can truly be disabling and it infuriating that this woman got away with faking this for so long. I would like to know how she was successful, because one would expect she'd have to have medical proof of her issues. I would hope that she would be assessed by at least 2 qualified medical professionals, and THEN provide appropriate and ongoing therapy/support to help her get back into the community, or at least function beyond her bedroom.
    I can't imagine this was done if she was able to get away with all that she did. Its because of people like her that abuse the system that ruin it for others that really need it.

  • Ann on 2014-04-28 4:53:15 PM

    The case points to a flaw in the system. In cases of mental illness, physicians are forced to rely on self-reported symptoms. There's no blood test for agoraphobia. Physicians are accustomed to believing their patients. A committed scam artist can get away with fraud, unless insurance companies are prepared to engage in expensive (and often inconclusive) surveillance and the courts are willing to punish fraudsters severely. The real victim is not the insurance company (who will increase premiums anyway), but the 1000s of real victims of illness who are treated the increasing skepticism by insurance companies because they don't want to be defrauded again.

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