'Single mum' benefits cheat caught after mentioning marriage online

Emma Woollacott

A businesswoman has been nabbed for benefits fraud after an ill-advised online post.

Nicola Alcock, 40, of Earby in Lancashire, had a dog-sitting franchise called Barking Mad.

Telling the authorities she lived alone with her two children, she claimed more than £81,000 in child tax credits and housing benefit over a period of five years.

Former BBC presenter guilty of £65k benefits fraud

But she was caught out when, thanks to a tip-off, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials checked the Barking Mad website.

"I am proud to be the Barking Mad representative in Keighley and surrounding areas," Alcock wrote. "I live in Earby with my husband Gez and 2 children."

An investigation revealed that she had married Gerard Thornton in 2008 but continued to claim benefits as a single parent.

But when Alcock was questioned, she continued to deny she was married - even though DWP officials had personal loan, bank and insurance documents showing that she and Thornton were living together.

She only admitted it when officials produced her marriage certificate.

Alcock has now been slapped with an eight-month jail sentence suspended for two years and ordered to complete 150 hours unpaid work by Burnley Crown Court. According to the Burnley Express, she will face a proceeds of crime hearing at a later date.

It's amazing how often benefits cheats manage to incriminate themselves online.

Eurovision singer found guilty of benefits scam

Late last year, for example, we reported on the case of Gemma Abbey, half of Eurovision band Jemini, who was convicted of fiddling £67,570 in benefits, after posting photos of her wedding on Facebook.

She'd been claiming tax credits as a single mother, and was also getting extra help because of her younger daughter's medical condition.

And two years ago, former BBC presenter Ann Salter was found guilty of falsely claiming £65,000 in benefits, having claimed she couldn't work because of depression. She was caught out because she'd posted her CV online - showing a steady stream of work.

Darts-playing blind man investigated for benefit fraud

In December, the government released figures showing that overall fraud and error in the benefit system is falling and now stands at 1.9%.

"We will not tolerate fraud and will pursue those who try to cheat the system," commented minister for welfare reform David Freud.

"Many deserving people rely on benefits when hard times hit, so it's vital we stop those who try to divert funds away from them and maintain a system that is fair to those who use it and those who pay for it."