The Social Security program is a federal form of social insurance that helps provide retired, unemployed, disabled Americans and their families with economic security in the form of monthly benefits. These benefits of the program include Medicare and Medicaid, disability and retirement income, and death and survivorship payments. For those who legitimately need it, these benefits can be a lifeline in dire circumstances. However, the issue of social security fraud has become a very well known concern that comes with serious penalties including heavy fines and even prison time. Anyone that has been accused of committing benefits fraud should immediately seek an attorney who has the knowledge needed to understand and defend a serious charge of this nature.
A Brief History of Social Security
In order to understand the complexity of an allegation of Social Security fraud, it may help to know more about the system itself. The Social Security Act (SSA) was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14th, 1935. At that time, it was primarily intended as a way for people to receive federal assistance, or “social insurance”, during the Great Depression – particularly senior citizens, whose poverty rate was exceedingly high. The original SSA provided benefits to retirees and individuals who were unemployed, as well as providing a lump sum payout in the event of death.
The payment of monthly benefits began to be issued in January 1940. The program remained mostly unchanged until 1950, when benefits were raised for the first time, paving the road for the more universal coverage that is available today. The program has seen many provisions since that time, broadening the scope of the coverage provided to include those who are disabled, lowering the age at which men are first eligible for their retirement benefits, creating measures that ensure that benefits keep up with current standard of living costs, modifications meant to restore financial balance within the system, the creation of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, and more. In 2004, President Bush signed into law the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which imposes criminal penalties for, among other crimes of identity theft, the theft of someone’s identity specifically to obtain their Social Security benefits.
Types of Social Security Fraud
Social Security fraud occurs when someone uses fraudulent methods to obtain social security benefits for themselves or to collect the benefits of others. There are many different examples of this type of fraud, including:
- Using the social security card number of another person in order to illegally receive their benefits
- Using false information on forms or otherwise in order to qualify for or obtain benefits
- Purposefully refraining from reporting the death of a beneficiary who was receiving benefits in order to illegally continue to collect those benefits
- Making and selling counterfeit social security cards or numbers, or in any way impersonating a Social Security official or employee
- Obscuring or omitting facts that would affect the eligibility for receiving benefits, such as the misrepresentation of your earnings and wages or claiming to have no source of income when there is an outside source of income
- Claiming to be unable to work due to a disability or exaggerating the seriousness of an existing disability in order to claim benefits
- Many recipients of benefits may not be in a state that allows them to responsibly handles their own finances. In these cases, a representative payee can be appointed by the SSA. It is illegal for that representative to deliberately misuse the benefits received by spending the funds on their own expenses, failing to adequately provide for the actual beneficiary, or placing the funds in their own bank accounts.
- Continuing to work while collecting Social Security Disability benefits (with some exceptions)
- Failing to report employment or return to employment while receiving benefits
Social Security Fraud is a Federal Crime and is Investigated Thoroughly
Due to the fact that the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security (SSI) are government programs, any deliberately false information that may have been used to illegally obtain benefits is a federal crime.
Reports of suspected social security fraud can be reported directly to the Social Security Administration via phone, mail, fax or an online form. Submitting a report may result in an investigation of the person who you claim is committing social security fraud. These investigations are thorough and are carried out by the Continuing Disability Investigations (CDI) group, which is the SSA’s own investigatory unit, who can also request help in their investigations from the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, like the Office of the Inspector General. Individuals who are investigated and found suspicious are prosecuted.
Penalties for Social Security Fraud
This is a crime that is taken quite seriously by the federal government, so the penalties for a conviction of any type of social security fraud can be steep. Often the severity of the punishment can be dependent on the total financial amount of the money gained or involved in the fraudulent actions. Because there are so many possible factors involved in an act of Social Security Fraud, which can encompass several different programs within the SSA as well as several different methods by which the benefits are illegally obtained, there is not a standard penalty. However, very generally speaking, the penalties for a conviction usually come with restitution of illegally obtained funds, steep fines of up to $250,000 and often, up to 10 years in federal prison.
If you or a loved one have been charged with the crime of committing Social Security fraud, it is important that you obtain the legal counsel of an attorney who is familiar with the complicated laws related to the provision of these benefits, as well as the laws that specifically govern public agencies like the Social Security Administration. If you would like to speak to someone about your case, we are proud to offer free case evaluations and want to hear your side of the story.