You frequently hear news about people fraudulently claiming social security disability benefits. Fraud is a major concern for the Social Security Administration (SSA), in spite of the stringent medical record review process they perform and other measures they take to determine the disability of the claimant. A recent report highlighted how a 49-year-old woman belonging to New Bedford was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Boston for stealing more than sixty thousand U.S. dollars in SS benefits by continuing to collect her disabled son’s benefits even after he left her custody. She was sentenced to four months in prison, and one year of supervised release including 6 months of home confinement. She was also ordered to pay $63, 798 in restitution to the SSA. This Bedford woman was the representative payee of her son and was required to notify SS if her son changed his living arrangements or left her custody. In spite of her son ceasing to live with her from August 2007, she cheated the SSA submitting forms to the administration falsely claiming that her son was still residing with her, and that she was spending the SS money on his behalf. She used a benefit amount of $63, 978 for her own purposes from 2007 to 2014.
Given the gravity of the fraud problem, the SSA is spending a lot of time and money to finding and punishing fraud. The administration regularly reviews the status of each disability recipient to ensure that they continue to deserve the disability benefits. Even if one is a genuinely disabled person, it is important to avoid having to defend oneself from a fraud claim. This can be achieved by following some important steps.
- Ensuring that if one works, the income stays below the maximum income limits – The gross SGA (substantial gainful activity) amount for the year 2016 is $1,260 a month. For blind beneficiaries, this amount is $1,820 a month. SSA considers it fraud if a beneficiary conceals the fact that he/she earns over the minimum amount.
- Keeping the SSA correctly informed regarding one’s work status – It is important to keep the Administration updated about all changes in one’s work activity. This would include the kind of work, the number of hours one works, and one’s earnings. Failing to inform or hiding any of these details will amount to fraud.
- Notifying the SSA when the beneficiary moves out of the U.S – SS benefits can be paid only in the United States. So if a disability recipient moves overseas, he/she has to inform the SSA and also accept the fact that they will no longer receive SSI benefits. If one continues to receive these benefits when living abroad, that is considered fraud.
- Promptly notifying SSA regarding any changes in one’s situation – It is required to inform SSA if one’s living or work situation changes (this may include divorce, death of a spouse, losing custody of a minor who is receiving benefits, if one is convicted of a crime, death of someone for whom one may be receiving benefits, changing one’s name or shifting residence.
- Notifying the agency if one’s disability or medical condition improves – If one’s condition improves in such a way that one can support oneself, it is important to notify the SSA. Receiving SS benefits when you don’t technically need it anymore is equivalent to committing fraud.
- Reporting one’s eligibility for other disability benefits – A beneficiary who is eligible for other types of disability benefits must let the SSA know about this. The administration will adjust the disability insurance in such a way as to reflect additional payments or loss of payments from other sources. A beneficiary applying for other eligible disability benefits or receiving an amount of money in connection with his/her disability (for instance, a lawsuit settlement) must also inform Social Security. Not reporting all the other disability benefits one is receiving is also considered fraud.