Social security provides financial assistance for disabled, elderly or retired persons. Throughout an individual’s life, they pay a portion of their income to the government in the form of Social Security taxes. If an individual retires or becomes disabled, the government will provide them with a monthly check based on the amount of money they paid into the system during their working years. Not every individual is eligible to receive these benefits.

What are Some Examples of Social Security Fraud?

Social Security fraud, in general, involves obtaining something valuable through willful misrepresentation. In terms of Social Security, fraud occurs when an individual with the intent to defraud makes, or causes to be made, a false statement, or conceals, misrepresents, or files to disclose a material fact for use in a determination of rights under the Social Security Act.

Examples of fraud may include:

  • False statements or claims;
  • Concealment of facts or events that affect eligibility;
  • Non-disclosure of important facts that affect eligibility;
  • A representative payee that is not properly using benefits; 
  • Failure to notify the SSA of the death of a beneficiary and receiving their benefits after their death; 
  • Filing a claim under another individual’s SSN; 
  • Scamming individuals by impersonating a SSA employee; 
  • Bribing a SSA employee; 
  • The misuse of grant or contract funds; or
  • Purchasing or selling Social Security cards or Social Security Administration information.

Other kinds of violations may involve the mismanagement or waste of funds or a standard of conduct violation. 

The most common type of Social Security fraud is one that many individuals are familiar with, identity theft. Identity theft includes the theft or misuse of an individual’s Social Security number and other information. This information is typically used to illegally obtain benefits. For example, a common scam is for a scammer to call an individual over the phone and pose as a Social Security Administration employee, and ask for their Social Security number (SSN).

How Can I Prevent Social Security Fraud?

There are steps an individual can take to reduce their risk of becoming a victim of Social Security fraud. An individual should:

  • Only provide their your Social Security number when absolutely necessary; 
  • Pay special attention to their Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement; and
  • Check their credit report annually.

There are many circumstances, including online shopping, where an individual may be unnecessarily asked to provide their SSN. It is absolutely acceptable for an individual to ask why their SSN is being requested. It is also an option to inquire whether or not there is an alternative means of providing identification other than the SSN.

An individual’s Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement is automatically mailed to them three months prior to their birthday. An individual can also contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a free report. If the report appears to contain wrong information, immediately contact the SSA. It may indicate fraud.

Another way individuals can protect themselves from identity theft is to check their credit report. An individual can obtain one free credit report each year. It should be reviewed for any signs of identity theft. While Social Security benefit information may not be included on a credit report, it is still a great place to start to ensure there is no fraudulent activity using an individual’s SSN.

Other steps an individual can take to prevent Social Security fraud include:

  • Not carrying their Social Security card regularly;
  • Not saying their SSN aloud in public; and
  • Being aware of scams attempting to obtain their SSN, such as phone and email scams.

If I am the Victim of Social Security Fraud, What Should I Do?

If an individual believes they may be the victim of Social Security fraud, they should immediately contact the SSA. An individual should report any illegal use of their SSN or benefits. When an individual contacts the SSA, they will be asked to provide:

  • Name;
  • SSN;
  • Date of Birth;
  • Address; and
  • Telephone number.

It is important to note that while any information provided to the SSA will mostly be kept confidential, the SSA may be required to share an individual’s information with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in cases of identity theft. An individual’s information, however, will only be used to combat the identity theft and will not be distributed to any members of the public.

The SSA does not tolerate fraud. They investigate and prosecute individuals who commit fraud against their programs. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigates allegations of Social Security fraud. Cases may be referred to United States attorneys in the Department of Justice, or other state and local prosecutors for prosecution as federal crimes.

What Other Steps Can I Take if My Identity has been Stolen?

There are steps an individual should immediately take if they believe their identity has been stolen or their SSN is being used fraudulently. An individual can place a credit freeze on their SSN. This means credit reporting companies cannot release an individual’s information to a third party. It prevents a lender from issuing new credit based on what is in the individual’s file. An individual must initiate a freeze with each of the 3 major reporting agencies and it is now a free service.

An individual may also place a fraud alert on their credit file. This means a creditor will be required to take extra steps to verify the identity of the individual requesting credit prior to proceeding with the transaction. An individual only has to request a fraud alert at one credit reporting company, and it will automatically apply to the other two. A fraud alert can be used in conjunction with a credit freeze.

A third option an individual may consider is a credit lock. This is similar to a credit freeze but usually includes a monthly fee. Additionally, federal and state laws regulate credit freezes but a credit lock is a contract between the individual and the credit bureau. Because of this, a credit freeze is likely a better option.

An individual may also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their website at IdentityTheft.gov. Here, an individual can report identity theft, obtain a recovery plan, and obtain an identity theft report. The individual will be required to answer questions regarding their situation. They can use the website to create a personal recovery plan. The website will outline each recovery step, update their plan when necessary, track their progress, and even pre-fill out forms and letters. If an individual has any questions about the process, they can contact an attorney who will gladly assist them.

An individual may also file a police report regarding identity theft. They will need their FTC identity theft report, a form of identification, and proof of the identity theft. It is important to request a copy of the report once it is completed.

Do I Need an Attorney for Social Security Fraud Issues?

Yes, it is important to have an experienced government attorney helping with any Social Security fraud issues. An attorney that specializes in civil lawsuits involving fraud may be especially helpful. You may be able to recoup losses incurred as a result of identity theft. 

An attorney will be able to review your case, advise you of your rights, and help you decide the best course of action going forward. Identity theft may affect more than just your Social Security income, so it is important to have help protecting your rights.