Social Security benefits increased by 8.7% in 2023, the largest cost of living adjustment in 40 years. The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), said yesterday that the record increase has led to a surge in social security fraud.
What is Social Security Fraud?
Social Security fraud is a serious type of federal crime that involves attempting to commit or actually carrying out a scheme concerning Social Security benefits. Depending on the specific offense, a defendant may face a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 1 year all the way up to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 15 years.
What Are Social Security-Related Scams?
Social Security fraud may be defined as willingly and knowingly:
- Providing false information to establish or maintain Social Security records;
- Using a Social Security number obtained by fraud or falsely representing a Social Security number as your own in an attempt to increase your benefits;
- Making a false statement or misrepresenting information in seeking Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits;
- Making false statements regarding income you have received from an employer or from self-employment;
- Concealing or failing to report any issue that would affect the payment of Social Security benefits; or
- Using Social Security payments received on behalf of another for any purpose other than that person's wellbeing.
According to the OIG, criminals impersonate SSA and other government agencies in an attempt to obtain personal information or money from unsuspecting seniors.
Scammers might call, email, text, write, or message individuals on social media claiming to be from the Social Security Administration or the Office of the Inspector General. They might use the name of a person who really works there and might send a picture or attachment as “proof.”
Recent Examples of Federal Social Security Fraud Cases
In February, a defendant was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in the Middle District of Florida for fraudulently using the identity of his missing father to obtain social security funds after being found guilty by a jury in September 2022. As part of his sentence, the court also ordered the defendant to pay restitution in the amount of $57,296, and entered an order of forfeiture in the amount of $57,296, the proceeds of the fraud.
A mother and daughter were to two months in prison and 1 year on house arrest in February after pleading guilty to social security fraud in West Virginia. According to court documents, in August 2020, a woman, who had been incarcerated since 2011 for the murder of her husband, contacted the Social Security Administration (SSA) to apply for Title II Retirement Insurance Benefits upon her release from prison.
When SSA officials received the application, it was revealed that her daughter and granddaughter had already applied for and had been receiving her SSA Retirement Benefits since 2010. The other-daughter had been using the funds through a shared bankcard.
SSA determined that the mother-daughter stole $172,952 and the court has ordered them to pay this amount back in restitution.
Last August, in Arkansas, a woman was sentenced to one year of home confinement and five years' probation for social security fraud. She was also ordered to pay a $9,600 fine and $96,397 in restitution, along with 400 hours of community service.
The fraud was committed by the woman acting as a payee for her husband, hiding numerous properties the couple owned from 2009 through 2021. She also hid household income and resources so she could maintain her husband's Social Security eligibility. As a result of her hiding, $96,397 was paid by Social Security to her husband.