As a Social Security disability attorney with Rubin Guttman & Associates, I sometimes hear frustrated clients report that a neighbor, a distant relative, or an acquaintance is collecting disability benefits from a phony claim. Maybe the “disabled” person claims serious back injuries and chronic pain but is seen doing heavy yard work. Other times I hear about people who are addicts or just unwilling to work like the rest of us. Still other supposedly disabled individuals are described as double dipping — they collect disability benefits while working nearly full time or under the table! The underlying feeling is, “it’s just not fair.” And our clients are right, it’s not fair for a person who is not entitled to Social Security disability benefits to defraud the government and collect benefits. Help may be on the way.
According to an October article in The Fiscal Times, Congress is moving forward to enact laws which will crack down on Social Security disability fraud. The new laws include strong criminal and civil penalties for violators. The proposed laws could impact the roughly 11 million disabled beneficiaries of the Social Security disability program.
The proposed Social Security reforms include creation of a new felony for conspiracy to commit Social Security fraud. Violating beneficiaries would be subject to up to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000. Folks who are collecting disability benefits while hiding or misrepresenting issues like work activity, physical limitation, or mental health status could lose their monthly disability check.
And not only will recipients be held accountable, but those who aid in advancing a bogus claim could face even stiffer criminal penalties. Doctors, claim representatives, and even Social Security employees who make false statements or omissions to advance a fraudulent application would face penalties — $5,000 – $7,500 for each false statement. Professionals and claim representatives who assist in fraudulent disability claims could also be in prison for five to ten years
The reforms arose from concern for the long-term fiscal stability of the Social Security disability program and findings of criminal wrongdoing. For example, in January 2014 FBI investigated a psychiatrist in Puerto Rico who accepted bribes from patients to submit false medical records and back-dated treatment records in support of pending disability claims. The FBI investigation resulted in a 39-count indictment against the doctor.
For my clients who suspect fraud, I encourage them to contact Social Security and confidentially report their concerns. Social Security’s Fraud Hotline may be reached at 800-269-02711 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.. Social Security can also be called at 800-772-1213, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m or visit any local Social Security office.