A DEBT-RIDDEN mother transferred thousands of pounds of pension funds to her own account using the names of those who had called her for help.
Michelle Hunter had kept the information after the inquiries by four retired people, as she worked as an administration officer for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), in Seaham.
Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard how the 32-year-old had accessed their files on the computer system, changed their bank details to her own Barclays account and labelled the transactions as arrears.
She then put the correct bank details back on the files, making no entry about the payment on their case notes.
The incidents happened on four separate occasions between January and June this year.
Her scam was discovered after an internal investigation was sparked by a post-payment check on one of the accounts.
Fraud investigators found amounts of £1,472, £1,756, £1,840 and £1,890 were transferred, totalling £6,958.
Allan Devine, prosecuting on behalf of the DWP, said none of those whose names were used were left out of pocket and that the DWP was seeking compensation for the cash taken by Hunter.
He said: “She was arrested at her place of work and interviewed at Peterlee Police Station and admitted that she had fabricated the payments.
“It is aggravated by the use of someone else’s details and it is fairly large amounts of money over a short period of time.”
Mr Devine said fraud investigators had to carry out a large amount of work to uncover the offences.
Hunter, of Longnewton Street, Dawdon, pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud by false representation.
Bill Davison, mitigating, said she had worked since leaving school and had been a “model citizen” up until she committed the frauds.
He said the mother of two had been in a relationship with a man who left her in £10,000 of debt by taking out credit in both their names.
The relationship came to an end when he had an affair.
Mr Davison said financial problems and the end of the partnership left Hunter depressed and ill, with bailiffs and companies calling her for their share of money.
Also, she was in “agony” over the troubles and she would now lose her job as a result of her actions.
He added: “She always knew she was going to be caught, because the systems are such that an investigation could bring it to light and they would come straight to her.”
Magistrates, who told Hunter the offences had been a breach of trust, sentenced her to 18 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered her to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
She must also pay £500 in compensation.