If you are getting Social Security Disability in Memphis or the greater mid-south region, then you probably have wondered at one time, “how could I be found guilty of SSDI fraud?”. It is a good question to ask yourself since SSD/SSDI is a form of payment to you, just as you would receive if working a job. The principles are similar; you say that you are qualified and agree to certain terms and then you get paid as agreed. Mr. Heermans, of the Heermans Social Security and Disability Law Firm, says that he is, “very careful to advise disability clients in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, on the agreements that go hand in hand with receiving disability payments”. One such instance where this became an issue recently, was the largest fraud case to come against an individual, when a 50-year-old man admitted he made false statements on SSDI documents.
According to court documents, the man applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments in 2011. The agency reviewed and approved his application and advised him of his legal obligation to give notice if he was able to work, returned to work, or if his medical condition improved.
In 2019, an insulation company paid him $36,210 for contracting work. He didn’t disclose this income, which would have made him ineligible for disability benefits, in a June 2020 Work Activity Report.
Initially, the man told investigators his wife did that work and earned those wages. However, he finally admitted that he concealed his work and income so he could keep his Social Security Administration benefits.
The man agreed to pay over $71,000 in restitution. He also faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. This is clearly an example of a disability recipient not abiding by the agreements to receive his disability income.
How Does the SSA Investigate Fraud?
It may have been a blessing in disguise that authorities caught this man quickly before he owed even more SSD restitution and possible jail time. But if it was a blessing, it was very well disguised. As outlined below, SSDI fraud charges are relatively easy to avoid. However, if worst comes to worst, it’s nice to know that a Heermans Memphis SSI disability lawyer always does their best to help you understand the rules that come along with receiving a disability income, so that you never find yourself in this situation.
As more was uncovered about this incident, it seems that a tax audit might have sealed this man’s fate. Federal tax audits do a very good job of connecting an individual to all of the income they receive. This is the nature of an audit; to look very closely at the exact amount of money that a business paid out to individuals or the amount of money an individual received. Generally, however, federal agencies don’t communicate with each other very well. So, most likely, authorities also relied on a confidential informant to capture this fraudster. Cooperative Disability Investigations usually start “with a report of suspected fraud” from “the public.”
Basically, fraud is a current misstatement of a material fact that’s made with the intent to obtain a financial gain. Occasionally, fraud and other tipsters are like whistleblowers. They come forward with information because they want to expose corruption or stop government waste.
Much more often, tipsters have personal motives. Some make reports simply to get another person in trouble, others may come forward to avoid prosecution, or receive lenient treatment or judgment, in an unrelated matter.
Furthermore, according to a job search website, authorities pay informants up to $90,000 per year. This may come as a shock to some that informants can earn this type of income, or the fact that you can apparently apply for such a position online. Not surprisingly, most of these positions are in larger metropolitan areas with high earning potential.
The bottom line is that there is some truth to the old saying that, “some people will say practically anything for love or money”. So, it may also go to say that an informer’s tip could also be presumptively unreliable in court.
If a fraud case does go to court, there are several points that an SSI lawyer near you will be sure to take into account. The reliability factors to consider include:
- Tipster’s Identity: Anonymous tips may have little merit, especially if the tipster offers no corroborating evidence. If the tipster does not vouch for the information provided, the judge will have to carefully consider giving it any weight at all.
- Informer’s Track Record: Judges look favorably on tipsters who have provided accurate information in the past. If the tipster was right before, s/he might be right again, especially if his/her motives were relatively pure.
- Corroborating Evidence: We mentioned this point above. The corroborating proof need not be directly related to the tip. If a tipster says an alleged SSDI fraudster drives a red pickup, that tidbit makes the tip more reliable.
Prosecutors cannot work backwards in fraud cases. They cannot argue that accurate information must have been reliable information. If we could work backwards like that, we all would’ve bought Amazon stock in 1992, when the company was practically giving away shares.
Some Examples of Fraud and How to Avoid Them
Frequently, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Working with a Heermans SSA law firm right from the start reduces or eliminates the possibility of fraud charges in the most common SSDI fraud scenarios. This is because our attorney’s make sure that you understand your rights and responsibilities that come with the privileges of an SSDI income and benefits.
Failure to Report Recipient Death
These cases often make the headlines, probably because there’s something inherently unsettling about cashing a dead person’s checks.
When SSDI recipients die, their survivors must immediately report that incident to the SSA. We realize that this obligation adds another item to a to-do list at an emotionally very stressful time. However, it must be done quickly by the responsible party after receiving a death certificate.
It is important to note that in some cases, this might be completely unnecessary. SSDI surviving spouses are often eligible for survivor benefits.
Non-disabled surviving spouses are usually eligible for partial benefits at age 60 and full benefits at the normal retirement age. Disabled surviving spouses might be eligible for survivor benefits at age 50. Other people, such as surviving spouses who take care of disabled children, might be eligible for these benefits in some cases, as well.
Earning Money Above the SGA Threshold
For 2023, the Substantial Gainful Activity threshold is $2,460 a month for most blind people, and $1,470 a month for most other people. Some people get confused about these thresholds. A few exceptions apply. Furthermore, blind doesn’t mean completely blind. Many people have such poor vision that they are legally blind, at least in this context.
We simply encourage people to do the math and also look into the Ticket To Work programs. Most bosses are more than willing to reduce compensation/hours so their employees are still eligible for government benefits (you don’t have to tell them it’s SSDI unless they ask).
Failure to Report Improved Medical Condition
Usually, SSDI recipients must submit to annual medical examinations. But if their conditions improve, they cannot postpone and wait until that annual exam to report that improvement. It must be done in a timely manner.
An improved condition doesn’t necessarily mean a removal of disability. In fact, the opposite is sometimes true. NFL standout Peyton Manning is a good example.
In 2011, doctors surgically corrected damaged nerves in the neck of the Indianapolis Colts quarterback. This injury was severe, but not completely debilitating. After several hours of surgery, doctors fixed Manning’s neck. But the surgery caused him to lose all the strength in his throwing arm, technically leaving him disabled to some extent. He missed the entire 2011 season rehabbing the arm, and the Colts released him in the offseason.
The Manning story has a happy ending. He went to the Denver Broncos, was the MVP in a 2015 Super Bowl win, and retired on top.
For more information about SSDI eligibility, contact the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm. We offer a FREE Disability Evaluation if you want to apply for SSDI/SSD or have already been denied benefits. Our team of attorneys provide a safe haven for those with disabilities and those who care for children with disabilities and you can call or text us 24/7 at (901) 244-0057. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.
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